Wildlife and Invasive Species Education (WISE) Species Profile: The Wood Stork
Common Name: Wood Stork
Scientific Name: Mycteria americana
Identification: The wood stork is a rather tall wading bird that stands out among others. Wood storks can reach a height of about 3.5 to 4 ft. and have an impressive wingspan of over 5 ft. They are adorned with beautiful white plumage and black primary and secondary feathers and tail feathers. The head is featherless, much like a black vulture or turkey vulture. The head has black/gray scaly skin and a very long, decurved bill. Wood storks have long black/gray legs and very unusual looking pinkish feet.
Description: Currently, wood storks can be found in states such as Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. Wood storks can be found nesting and feeding in areas such as hardwood swamps, around lakes or small ponds, mangroves, canals, cypress domes, small sloughs. You may see a solitary individual or may see dozens. They are usually co-mingling with other wading birds such as giant egrets, ibis, great blue herons, and roseate spoonbills. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the wood stork is the only stork species that breeds in the United States. Wood storks are gregarious nesters that can form colonies in the hundreds. Colonies form around February to March and when breeding and nesting begins. Nests usually occur among trees in standing water of about 4-12 inches. Females only have one clutch a year. The average clutch size is about two to five eggs. Once hatched, baby storks are able to take flight at about 10 to 12 weeks. Immature wood storks differ from adults by having a yellowish bill and grayish/white down. Wood storks reach a breeding age of about three to four years. Wood storks are a species that do not mate for life, searching out a new mate each season.
Diet: The primary diet of a wood stork are small fish and minnows, although it can also be seen feeding on crayfish, frogs and small reptiles. Wood Storks feed using tacto-location. The Wood Stork will hold its beak partially open and wait for a fish to touch it, then SNAP! According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this rapid response is an astonishing 25 milliseconds.
Interesting Facts: The Wood Stork was on the brink of extinction. In the 1970’s there were only 5,000 pairs recorded. Loss of wetland habitats and food base were primary factors in the sudden decline. In the everglades, nesting failure was also a contributor. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently has reclassified the Wood Stork from “Endangered” to “Threatened”. In Florida, it is listed as “Federally-designated Threatened” and it is also protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treat Act. Today, it is estimated that there are about 8,000 breeding pairs.
References: Wood Stork https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/birds/waterbirds/wood-stork/
Wood Stork https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile?spcode=B06O
Wood Stork https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wood_Stork/lifehistory
Cover Photo Credit: Jim E. Davis