The Wood Stork
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:
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.
During summer, rains saturate thousands 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.
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.
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.
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.
Wood Stork Reproduction Habits
It takes about 130 to 150 days to complete the reproductive cycle, so wood storks spend over a third of the year in breeding-related activities.
Sexual maturity is reached at about 4 years.
The eggs hatch after 28 to 32 days. Newly hatched chicks weigh about 2 ounces and are helpless and unable to fly. The eggs hatch in the order in which they were laid, so nestlings differ in size during the first few weeks.
Competition for food is fierce and, if it is scarce, only the older chicks will survive. Week-old chicks are fed about 15 times a day and they grow rapidly. The parents take turns guarding the nest and flying to feeding grounds up to 80 miles away.
Wood Stork’s Declining Population
Wood storks usually live for at least 10 years, but mortality is high during the first year as the newly fledged young learn to fend for themselves. The birds also face an array of such man-made perils as pesticides and collisions with structures.
The decline of the wood stork, however, is largely attributed to poor reproduction caused by an inadequate food supply. The lack of food is caused by the disruption and drainage of wetlands and unsuitable water management practices.
In addition, favorable nesting sites are becoming scarce. Many birds now nest in man-made impoundments managed for other purposes. This makes them less reliable for rookeries.
The well-being of the wood stork is an indicator of the health of our wetlands. The loss of these majestic birds would signal the disruption of a valuable Florida environment.
How can you help?
Through your actions and concern, you can help ensure a future for the wildlife of Florida's wetlands:
- Never disturb wood storks or other birds in a rookery, as they may abandon their nests.
- Be considerate when observing wildlife. Boats, dogs, and even people hiking nearby can disrupt wood stork courtship, nesting and feeding.
- Join conservation groups such as the Florida Audubon Society or The Nature Conservancy and actively participate.
- Let your local, state and federal representatives know you support the protection and proper management of Florida's environment.