Over 14,000 birds are choosing to feast on Portugal’s landfills year round instead of flying to Africa

By Kelli Bender
Updated March 17, 2016 05:25 PM

European white storks have exchanged babies for BBQ chips.

According to National Geographic, these birds have become addicted to the junk food rotting in the landfills of Spain and Portugal. Because of this dependency, the storks have started skipping their annual winter migration to Africa, so they can stay closer to their snack stash.

“During the 1980s, the first individuals started staying, and now we see those numbers increasing exponentially,” said Aldina Franco, a conservation ecologist leading the study exploring the birds’ new behavior.

The European white stork population in Portugal has ballooned from 1,187 in 1995 to more than 14,000, with most of the birds wintering near the country’s landfills.

“We think these landfill sites facilitated the storks staying in their breeding sites all year because they now have a fantastic, reliable food source all year round,” Franco said.

For her study, the University of East Anglia ecologist outfitted 48 birds with GPS trackers. Data from the devices showed that many of the birds were living in landfill nests, while others farther away would travel up to 30 miles to the nearest landfill to collect food to bring back home.

Now that the trend is clear, researchers are curious to see how the landfill life may benefit these birds. Franco believes birds living in landfills may have a more successful breeding season than the storks that still migrate, because the landfill birds will have their nests already prepared without risking travel.

Franco and other ecologist aren’t too concerned about this new behavior; storks are known to have adaptable migratory patterns, which is good, because the birds will have to come up with a new plan soon. The European Union is set to close all landfills with open air trash piles by 2018.