Wood Stork: Mycteria americana


Tall and long-legged, the wood stork is the largest wading bird native to America. It is white with black flight feathers, distinctive because of its dark, featherless head (down to the upper neck) and thick, down-curved bill. Wood storks fly with neck and legs extended, interrupting strong wing beats with brief glides; their wingspan is 5 1/2 feet.


In a survey during the late 1970s, over 18,000 birds were estimated to occur in 32 colonies in south Florida. A decade later, there were more colonies (52) but only 10,000 birds. Historically, south Florida probably had 20,000 nesting storks but a survey in 2002 showed that it now contains between 6,600 and 7,700 nests in 41 colonies. The lowering of water-surface levels has triggered many of the colonies to move northward in search of more favorable habitats.

Because of declines in breeding populations, the wood stork was listed as an endangered species in 1984.


To feed, the wood stork typically wades in shallow water, stirring the muddy bottom with its flesh-colored feet and partially opened bill. Once a small fish contacts the interior of the beak, it is snapped shut in 1/40 second, one of the fastest reflex actions known. This is known as grope feeding and its success depends upon dense populations of small fish. Wood storks forage, or feed in drying wetlands, which concentrate prey. It is estimated that the average stork family requires 443 pounds of fish during the breeding season. Wood storks usually feed within 16 miles of their colony but often fly great distances in search of feeding grounds, sometimes as much as 60-80 miles.

To set up a nest, they actually require flooded, woody vegetation, probably as an anti-predator strategy. Two to five eggs usually hatch after 30 days, and nestlings are ready to fly in nine weeks. However, if food is scarce due to droughts or wetland drainage, and the site dries up, hatchling wood storks will not survive and the adults will abandon nesting.


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