The stork has symbolic significance in many regions. The Greek etymology behind the word stork means mother-love, while according to a German fairy-tale the stork is “mother-bird”. Colonists of North America considered it a symbol of love and welcoming and in Chinese wisdom, the bird symbolises longevity and old age.
In Bangladesh, specifically Niamatpur, a village located on the bank of Nagar river of Kahaloo upazila in Bogra, the Asian Openbill stork is not only believed to be a symbol of peace and fortune, but is protected from harm.
Hundreds and thousands of Openbills are seen almost every day, soaring over the village with their glossy black wings.
The village is surrounded by a lot of old silk-cotton and rain trees, where the birds set up their nests, the villagers said.
The Asian Openbill, scientifically known as Anastomus Oscitans, or Shamuk Khol in Bangla, is large in size and can easily be separated from other birds for its beak which is uniquely shaped to give them better grip on the smaller animals they hunt for food.
SM Iqbal, associate professor of zoology at MM Ali College and a local bird expert, who has visited Niamatpur to study the birds, said, “The Asian Openbill is found in Bangladesh, Thailand, Burma and India. Over the past few decades, their number has decreased, but has not reached an alarming stage.
“The birds generally visit Bangladesh during the summer and are well-adapted in Dhunat, Shibganj, Kahaloo and Gabtoli upazila in Bogra district. They breed successfully in Bangladesh throughout the months of June, July, August and September and then later leave to travel through the warm areas of India during the colder months.”
He added that the birds feed mainly on snails and other large molluscs, along with fish, snakes, frogs, and other insects, and like to live and breed in colonies.
Md Anowar, an 85-year-old retired teacher in the village, said, “Since 2002, a few Openbills began living and breeding in the village. Initially, they made their homes in the village forest – Baraltala – but have now spread across the entire village.”
Md Mahbubur Rahman, a farmer of the village said, “They have been coming, living, and breeding in our village for the past 16 years. They leave right before winter. Since we consider the birds as symbols of peace, nobody here bothers them.”
A village chairman said they believed the birds to bring peace because since the Asian Openbill began living and breeding in their village “internal conflicts among the locals began decreasing.”
Zakia Khatun, another resident of the village said, “It is very pleasant to see them flying above us in the sky. All of us protect them from being hunted.”
The villagers said that to protect this cherished symbol of peace, not only do they confront and stop hunters from killing the birds, but also prevent the cutting down of the trees where the Openbills live and breed.
SM Sazzad Hossain, divisional forest officer of the Social Forest Department in Rajshahi said, “The International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the Asian Openbill as Least Concern species. The Asian Openbill is also protected under the Wildlife Act of Bangladesh. It has been breeding in the country for around 15 years now and is well-adapted, especially in the northern districts, including Bogra.”