Mycteria americana Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Wood storks are the largest native wading bird and the only stork that breeds in the US. These huge, white birds are sometimes confused with white pelicans as both species soar at great heights and both have black flight feathers when viewed from underneath. However, pelicans tuck their neck in while flying and they have short, orange legs. Storks fly with their neck extended and their long, black legs trailing.
Wood storks feed in shallow wetlands, feeling with their long bill for fish and crustaceans. They nest in large colonies, often in cypress swamps or on mangrove islands. Nesting in south Florida may begin in November, or as late as April in north Florida.
Wood stork nesting success varies dramatically from year to year. Biologists have calculated that during the breeding season each wood stork nest may need 150 kg of fish to fledge young. This means that wood storks need an abundance of concentrated prey to successfully raise nestlings. Small changes in water level and temperature can dramatically affect the amount of food available. If water levels are not just right, and there is not enough food, wood storks will either not nest at all or abandon their nests.
The wood storks decline in numbers has been linked to the disruption of natural timing and flow of water in the Everglades and the destruction of shallow wetlands where storks feed. For the last fifty years the flow of water through the Everglades system has been largely determined by urban and agricultural demands for water rather than the natural wet-dry cycle.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, north east of Naples, is the nation’s largest Wood stork nesting site. The nesting record for this site, set in 1962, is 6,000 nesting pairs with 17,000 young fledged. Sadly, the past few years at Corkscrew have not been as good. Though 300 or so pairs nested in 2005, no chicks fledged. Six hundred pairs nested in 2006 and managed to fledge 1,428 young, but there were no nests or young in 2007.
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