FPL | Wood Stork Behaviors

Wood Stork Behaviors

Feeding method | Feeding times | Breeding behaviors | Habitat range | How they fly | Nests

The wood stork has many interesting behaviors, from where it nests to how it flies. The following list includes a number of topics you might enjoy.

Feeding method

The feeding behavior of wood storks differs from most other wading birds; wood storks rely on touch to catch their prey.

To feed, a wood stork walks slowly through shallow water with its bill held open under the surface. When a fish, crayfish or tadpole touches the bill, a reflex causes the bill to snap shut very quickly. The force of this reflex and the bill's sharp edges prevent prey from escaping.

This non-visual feeding method is an advantage in shallow, muddy, weed-choked ponds.

To catch enough food to feed their young, prey must be abundant, so wood storks time their breeding cycle on seasonally drying wetlands for a concentrated food supply. Other times of the year, when less food is required, they search statewide for shallow feeding ponds.

Feeding times

During summer, rains saturate thousand of acres of Florida and fish are able to reproduce and grow rapidly.

By October, rains taper off and the waters recede. Fish begin to concentrate in ponds and sloughs. The water area fragments into hundreds of individual ponds that slowly shrink as the dry season progresses.

Foraging storks follow the dry-down from upland ponds to wet prairies and coastal marshes.

Breeding behaviors

A pair of wood storks needs about 440 pounds of fish during a breeding season to feed themselves and their young. Therefore, breeding is carefully synchronized with wetland cycles so food is most plentiful when the young are being raised.

Young wood storks must be fledged before the summer rains begin and the fish disperse. Droughts in the wet season, heavy rains during the dry season, or inappropriate changes of water levels in association with water management programs can all cause widespread nesting failure.

Habitat range

Wood storks nest from coastal South Carolina south through Central and South America to northern Argentina. In the U.S., the largest nesting colonies are in the Big Cypress region of Florida, particularly the National Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Central and northern Florida and southern Georgia also support nesting colonies.

How they fly

Wood storks are excellent fliers. By using vertical air currents, they soar thousands of feet into the air and then glide for miles with head and legs outstretched. Storks descending from high altitudes can perform amazing dives, rolls and turns.


Wood storks nest in the treetops of cypress or mangrove swamps and, more recently, man-made impoundments. To protect themselves against such predators as raccoons, the birds usually build their nests on islands or in tall trees over water.

Nesting begins as early as November in South Florida and as late as spring in North Florida and Georgia.