You’ll see them high above the village squares, perched precariously atop slanted rooftops in their huge nests, or roaming fields of newly cut grass. For many centuries, these graceful white birds have been a yearly presence in Alsace during the warmer months and featured largely in Alsatian folklore.
Alsace Storks: Local Legends
If a stork is flying above your house, then a baby is on the way. If a baby has been born, that means a stork has flown to the underground lake where the souls of the dead have been reincarnated as babies. The stork has fished out a newborn, wrapped it in a sheet, and carried it back to your house. Does that sound crazy? Maybe you haven’t spent enough time in Alsace.
Storks are faithful creatures. They will return to the same nest for their entire lives. The male stork arrives first, sometime in early spring, to reclaim and repair the home he and his spouse left behind. This comes after a winter migration of up to 15,000 kilometres—sometimes as far away as South Africa!
Did You Know?
The stork is not the only example of animal symbolism to come from Alsace. First mentioned in Georg Franck von Franckenau’s De ovis paschalibus (About Easter Eggs) in 1682, the Easter Bunny originally referred to an Alsace tradition of an Easter Hare bringing Easter Eggs.
Proliferation and Migration
When the nest is sufficiently comfortable and secure, the female arrives. Then it’s time to mate. Throughout the summer, the newly hatched chicks grow. In early fall the youngsters are autonomous enough to leave the nest, and begin their migration. Their parents head south some time later, and by some miraculous power, know where to find their young offspring. Meanwhile, Alsatians are left once again to gaze up at the big empty nests (they weigh up to 500 kilograms!) until spring rolls around again.
Given that this tender yearly ritual takes place right in the middle of towns and villages, it’s no wonder storks are auspicious symbols of fidelity and fertility. Storks are almost as faithful to their partners as they are to their nests. An Alsatian will tell you that a stork never nests on a house where there has been a divorce.
On the other hand, if a stork should choose your house, local legend says it will bring luck to your family. Today there are over 600 stork couples in Alsace, at least 50 on the rooftops of Strasbourg alone.
So if you were ever wondering why Alsatians seem so friendly, happy and healthy, even after so many centuries of war and conflict, you might want to look up to the storks.
Photography credit: Banner image by Ealdgyth (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons