This white stork, photographed in a field off Crater Lake Highway in Medford, is one of a pair belonging to a bird trainer and handler in the Applegate Valley. - courtesy of Tim Johnston

It's 'fantastic, beautiful,' and it's illegal in Oregon

Amateur birder Tim Johnston did more than a double-take Friday when he spied a very large and out-of-place white bird standing in a field off Crater Lake Highway in Medford.

He sneaked up to snap a photo of the strange white creature with bright red legs and a bright red beak known for its most special of deliveries.

Only when he checked his bird-identification book did Johnston confirm what he saw — a white stork at least one continent and one ocean away from its normal haunts of Europe, western Asia and Africa.

"I was a little excited, to say the least," says Johnston, of Central Point. "To me, it's like a wildebeest or a zebra running around town.

"It's a fantastic, beautiful bird," he says.

It's also an illegal one and the Applegate Valley man who owns it will have to seek a permit to keep it.

Mac Embury, a bird trainer and handler with a handful of movie credits to his name, says the stork Johnston photographed "probably" is part of a pair of white storks he owns.

One female has clipped wings and does not fly, Embury says. But the male's wings are not clipped and it occasionally leaves, and it likely is the subject of white stork sightings in the region over the past few years.

White storks are not classified under Oregon's Wildlife Integrity Rules, so it is by default a prohibited species that cannot be owned, possessed, bought or sold, says Martin Nugent, threatened and endangered species coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The rules are designed to protect native plants and habitats from non-native species, and Embury having possible breeding pairs of prohibited birds could result in potential offspring escaping into the wild, Nugent says.

"That's a problem," Nugent says. "Having a full-winged one is that much more of a problem."

The ODFW could consider a permit for Embury to keep a prohibited species, Nugent says. If granted, a permit likely would carry a series of conditions, Nugent says.

"They're certainly not going to be allowed to have them free-flying," Nugent says.

After a Mail Tribune inquiry Tuesday about Embury's storks, ODFW biologist Mark Vargas informed Embury that his storks are illegal.

Embury says "everything's in the making" for him to seek a permit and that his wayward stork soon will join his mate in the clipped-wing category.

"That way he can stay home," Embury says.

The Internet has been abuzz the past few weeks over white stork sightings throughout the Rogue Valley, with accounts reported as recently as Tuesday on the North American Rare Bird Alert. The alerts even detail sightings over the past two years in Murphy and along Interstate 5 just south of the Oregon border.

The American Birders Association has not accepted the Oregon sightings as worthy of birders adding it to their Life Lists.

Johnston, who started keeping a birding Life List three years ago and has credited nearly 200 species among the birds he's seen, says he's not checking off white stork, either.

"Well, maybe I'll make it a footnote," Johnston says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at

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