The aim of this paper is to explain the altitudinal changes that have occurred during the 20th century to the white stork distribution in the Podhale region of the uplands of the Tatra mountains, southern Poland. We analysed both historical data from the white stork censuses and detailed yearly records from 1974 to 2003 on population size, distribution and breeding success.
A white stork nest was first recorded at Podhale in 1931 and numbers increased to seven nests in 1933, all located below 650 m altitude. During the 30-years, 1974–2003, both the maximum and upper-quartile altitudes of nests increased significantly. In 1974 the highest nest was at an altitude of 770 m, and the maximum reached 890 m in 1999. In the same period, the breeding population increased significantly. The minimum and lower-quartile altitudes of nests decreased significantly following initial occupation of suitable lower altitude sites before uphill expansion. We noted the positive association between nest occupancy over the study period and breeding performance. As a result, long-occupied nests contributed most of the young produced in the population and chicks from these nests probably colonized new areas. We believe this is the first well-documented evidence of, and mechanism for, a particular bird species to ascend to higher elevations and that the altitudinal shifts reported for butterflies, plants and whole biomes can be detected in birds as well.