The university is to launch a new research project into why storks are launched their migratory patterns.

Since the 1980s, the birds have stopped annually migrating from Northern Europe to Africa, and the research carried out by UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences in collaboration with the British Trust for Ornithology and researchers in Portugal will look to understand why.

In folk tales, the storks’ strong white wings carried babies to their parents around the world, but now the birds live in Spain and Portugal all year round rather than take their annual migration.

Fifteen adult white storks will be tracked for a year using GPS to investigate why they have changed their migration patterns, with researchers investigating the link between climate change and feeding habits to predict the species’ future distribution.

The project is led by Dr Aldina Franco of the School of Environmental Sciences, who said: “These birds have changed their behaviour very radically. The number of storks spending their winter in Portugal has increased hugely from around 1,180 birds in 1995 to more than 10,000 in 2008 and numbers continue to grow.

“By tracing their movements, we will look at how important these rubbish dumps are for white storks in the wintering and breeding season.

“They are also breeding in new areas in the north of the country – and we think this may be because the climate has changed to become more suitable for them. So climate change is another likely factor.

“Some birds seem to move much more than others and some use rubbish dumps more frequently than others. We will watch to see if they all decide to breed in Portugal or if some will leave Portugal to breed elsewhere in Europe.”

“With so many migrants in decline, trying to understand how and why they are staying in one place is an important step forward in trying to understand what their long term future may be.”