WOOD STORK (Mycteria americana)
It’s not often that you see a large uncommon bird, then do a “double-take” as it bears a strange resemblance to something prehistoric. In all likelihood you’ve just spotted a Wood Stork – the only member of the stork species that breeds in North America. From a distance, the Wood Stork will resemble a larger version of the Ibis, with their curved beaks, and their flight conformation with necks
stretched out in front of them (unlike herons who keep their heads pulled back close to their body).
The Wood Stork is a large wading bird with a wingspan of 60-65 inches with “primary” wing feathers and tail feathers being black and the body feathers being white. It’s most prominent characteristic, however, is the head and upper neck of the adult bird – there are no feathers but, rather, dark gray, rough, scaly skin and a large, curved beak, also black. Keeping with the color scheme, the legs are dark
with pink-hued toes. It often seems that the larger the bird, the less “musical” the call. This stork goes one step further – the adult is voiceless and is only able to make a hissing noise – or a loud “clacking” of its bill (nestlings have a range of sounds). The name given to a group of Wood Storks is “muster”.
Non-breeding Wood Storks have a wide range including all of North America and as far south as northern Argentina in South America. Breeding, however, occurs in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina. They can inhabit both freshwater and estuarine marshes with water depths of 2-15 inches for foraging. These needs mean that mixed hardwood swamps, sloughs, mangroves, and cypress strands are primary nesting places. They are a social bird and form breeding “colonies”. Wood storks (in Florida) lay their eggs from October to June. The males gather the sticks used in the nests located primarily in trees in standing water. They will produce one clutch per year of 2 to 5 eggs, with an average incubation time of 30 days. The young storks will be able to fly in 10-12 weeks and once they leave the nest, they’re on their own. They forage by moving their large bill, partially open, through the water and snap up any prey encountered – mainly small to medium-sized fish, crayfish, amphibians, and reptiles. You may also see them using their feet to stir up the prey they will then snap up with one of the fastest reflex movements found among animals.
The main threat to the Wood Stork is loss of habitat. In Florida this is primarily due to agricultural expansion, development, and alteration of “hydrocycles” (normal flooding to increase prey population and natural drawdown to concentrate that population). Draining of cypress stands presents a particular challenge in that it interferes with nesting and increases predation. Wood Storks are a Federally and Florida Endangered species and are protected by those laws and regulations. They are also protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird
Treaty Act.All of the above information was gleaned from the “Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission” website – a wealth of information!
The Wood Stork FAQ section on the website will answer a variety of
questions…my favorite being “do wood storks deliver babies?” We’ll let you find the answer!
Photo credits go to Kathy Abbott.
Please do consider making a donation to the Wildlife Center of Venice. A couple of bucks can go a very long way to feeding recovering wildlife as they recover.