Wild South Florida — Naturally Wild
 
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The Ultimate Guide to the Outdoors and Environment in Broward, Collier, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties.
   
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Wood Stork
wood stocks breading colony
A small colony of breeding wood storks atop a tree island at Wakodahatchee Wetlends west of Delray Beach, spring 2014. Other photos taken at Green Cay Nature Center .
wood stork
 

To be kind, the wood stork, Mycteria americana, has a face that only another wood stork could love. But when a woody takes to the air, well, that’s another matter altogether.

Graceful and spectacular are words that come to mind, a sight rivaled only by a roseate spoonbill in flight.

It’s a common bird in South Florida’s wetlands, where it hunts for fish and invertebrates. It’s not unusual to see one probing the water in a circular manner as if it’s drilling for something. You’ll see them alone or in pairs, or in dozens, wading in shallow waters.

Wood storks will winter as far north as coastal areas of the Carolinas, but they are year-round residents here in South Florida. In fact, they time their breeding to Florida’s dry season, when fish are more concentrated in pools. Their range extends southward to Uraguay and Argentina.

Wood stork numbers declined throughout most of the 20th century, earning the bird a spot on the federal endangered species list. But it’s done well enough in recent years that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering moving it up a notch to "threatened.”

 
 

Globally, however, the wood stork population seems to be secure. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has it at “least concern.”

Woodies are among the largest birds in South Florida, with a body 45 inches long or more, and a wingspan that approaches 6 feet. Wood storks are mostly white, with a short black tail and black in the wings that becomes most apparent when the bird is in flight. The head is bald, the bill huge and curved. All of this makes the wood stork easy to identify. The only birds similar are the white ibis, which is much smaller, and the great white egret, which is pure white and has a straight, orange bill.

Fish and aquatic invertebrates make up their diet. Wood storks forage in shallow water, head down, bill in water looking and probing for food — a technique called grope feeding or tacto location.

 
 
wood stork flying
 
wood stork
 

Once a woody feels potential a meal, its bill snaps shut quickly. Actually that's an understatement. The reaction has been timed at 25 milliseconds, the quickest of any vertebrate. It has to be quick: it has been estimated that a nesting pair of storks and their offspring will consume 443 pounds of fish during breeding season.

Woodies breed in large colonies in cypress trees, mangroves or pond apple trees. Clutches are two to four eggs, which take about a month to incubate. Both parents sit; both feed their offspring. For the first five weeks or so, one parent is always on the nest guarding against nonbreeding storks, which might kill the offspring. First flight comes at eight weeks; fledgelings return to the nest until about 11 weeks.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, woodies numbered 20,000 pairs in the 1930s. That number dropped to 10,000 by 1960 and 5,000 by the late 1970s. The reason can be summed up in a word: hydrology. Storks depend on the wet/dry seasonal cycles that naturally occur in Florida in order to breed. They also require wet habitats. South Florida's screwed up plumbing, the system of canals, levees and floodgates, has disrupted the natural seasonal cycles and destroyed habitat. Wood storks are one of 19 members of the Ciconiidae family, and the only member found in the U.S.

 
 
wood stork

wood stork

wood storks
Photographs by David Sedore
   
More Links for Wood Stork National Audubon Society Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology National Geographic
       
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.