for National Geographic News
Conservationists in the remote forests of northeastern India have come up with an ingeniousand inexpensiveway to save baby storks: safety nets.
Greater adjutant storks, Leptoptilos dubius, build their nests high on the limbs of the majestic silk cotton tree. But in recent years, a growing number of hatchlings have been falling out of the nests. If the 65 to 100 foot (20 to 30 meter) fall doesn't kill the birds, their injuries leave them prey to dogs and crows.
There are only about 1,000 greater adjutant storks left in the world, and about 80 percent of them are in the Indian state of Assam. Scientists are afraid the death toll from plunging out of nests could seriously impair the species' battle against extinction.
The World Conservation Union classifies the greater adjutant stork as a "conservation-dependent" species in great danger of extinction.
"Greater adjutant storks are a highly endangered species that requires complete protection wherever it occurs, in breeding and non-breeding periods," said Asad R. Rahmani, chief of the Bombay Natural History Society in Mumbai, India.
When the Bough Breaks
Deforestation is seen as the major culprit in the wave of deaths of tumbling storks.
The storks tend to nest in communities; a single tree might host ten or more nests. But fewer trees means fewer nesting spots, forcing the storks to build their nests on thinner, less viable branches.
The branches can withstand the weight of the birds while the hatchlings are small. But as the young chicks grow, their increased weight combined with the impact created when both adults return to the nest after foraging for food can cause the tree branches to break or splinter, and send the nest crashing to the ground.
Even when nesting branches are sufficiently sturdy, the decline in tree cover means that the nests are more vulnerable to storms and high winds that can toss young storks out of their nests, experts say.
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