Only recently there was a hue and cry in the papers about a black-necked stork which was spotted with a ring around its beak in a wetland outside Delhi. Black-necked storks are large birds, which are classified as ‘near-threatened’ in the IUCN Red list.
They are wading birds which live in wetland habitats. Paddy fields are common areas where they are seen foraging for prey. The black-necked stork is a carnivore. They feed on other water birds such as little grebes, pheasant-tailed jacanas and coots as well as on fish, frogs, crabs and molluscs. In the Gangetic areas they are known to prey on eggs and hatchlings of turtles.
These tall long-necked birds are seen all across the Indian subcontinent. The iridescent bluish-black head is distinctive in adults, as is the white and black plumage. You can distinguish between the sexes by the colour of their irises. Adult females have a yellow iris, while the males have brown irises. Black-necked storks are largely non-social and are usually seen as single birds, pairs and sometimes in family groups.
The Mir Shikars, traditional bird hunters of Bihar, had a ritual practice that required a young man to capture a black-necked stork or a “Loha Sarang” alive before he could marry. The baraat or wedding procession would locate a bird and the bridegroom-to-be would try to catch the bird with a limed stick. However these cornered birds can be ferocious adversaries. This ritual was stopped in the 1920s after a young man was killed in the process after being gored by a stork.
Young birds have been known to be taken from the nest for meat in Assam. But John Gould noted that the meat of the bird “… has a fishy flavour, too over-powerful to admit of its being eaten by any one but a hungry explorer.