Wood Stork

 Wood Stork

©Darlene B. Durham 2014


TGO Nature Center, Education, Series, Bird, Wood, Stork, Nature

Photo Courtesy of Taylor Durham


We occasionally see wood storks here at TGO and I always consider it a treat to be able to get a glimpse of this large bird.  The wood stork is a tall bird with white feathers except for the black flight feathers, a bald gray black head down to the upper neck, black legs and pink toes.  If you click on the photo above and zoom in, you can see the pink feet.  Its head is covered with rough scaly skin.  Its long bill is thick and curves slightly downward towards the tip.  The wood stork’s legs are long – perfect for wading in water searching for food.

Adult wood storks are 35-45 inches long and their wingspan is 60-65 inches.  Adult wood storks can make a hissing sound which is the only sound they can make since they are voiceless.  Wood storks are social birds feeding in flocks and nesting in large rookeries.

Wood storks consume small to medium sized fish, crayfish, amphibians and reptiles.  The fish they eat usually range from one to six inches long and two of the primary fish they eat are topminnows and sunfish.

They have a very unique way of gathering their food.  They will move their partially opened bill through water and when its prey comes into contact with its bill, the wood stork snaps close its bill and swallows its prey.  This is referred to as grope-feeding or tacto-location.  The response time to close its bill and capture its prey is a staggering 1/40 second.  This is one of the fastest movements in the whole animal kingdom.

Wood storks are the only stork to breed in the United States and they breed in the southeastern part of the country.  They will begin to breed at about the age of three but most will breed when they are four years old.

Here in Central Florida, wood storks form colonies from February to March.  They will lay eggs usually from March to late May.  The wood storks time their breeding season to the dry season.  As large bodies of water shrink or become multiple smaller bodies of water, the fish become concentrated and easier to catch.  This helps the new parents as it has been estimated that an average nesting pair with two fledglings can consume over 400 pounds of fish during the breeding season.  That is a great quantity of fish considering the wood stork eats small to medium prey.

As mentioned earlier, wood storks nest in large rookeries.  Some nesting colonies can consist of 100 to 500 nests.  There can be several pairs of birds nesting in the same tree.  They prefer to nest in trees that stand in water so they can be found in mangroves, hardwood swamps, cypress domes/strand and sloughs.  Nesting in tall trees surrounded by water protects them from predators such as raccoons.  Wood storks have also been known to nest in man-made structures.

The mating pair of wood storks builds a nest consisting of sticks, vines, leaves and Spanish moss.  The female can lay two to five eggs per season with eggs being laid one to two days apart.  Both parents will alternate incubation of the eggs for about one month.  Under good conditions, the typical pair of wood storks will have an average of two young survive.

The eggs will hatch in the order in which they were laid.  If food is scarce, only the older chicks will survive.  The newly hatched birds weigh approximately two ounces.  They cannot fly and are totally helpless. The young wood storks will fledge approximately 10 to 12 weeks after they have hatched.

Wood storks have been known to live up to at least ten years.  The mortality rate is high for the first year of the wood stork’s life.  Unfortunately, the wood stork is an endangered species.  One of the greatest threats to the bird’s population is the loss of the wetlands.

We have been fortunate to observe wood storks here at TGO on occasion at the pond across from the bridge on the golf cart trail, in the Addison Canal, behind Greenwing and other areas of TGO.  We have also seen them at the  Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge along the Black Point Wildlife Drive.  Hopefully, with conservation efforts, the wood stork will be around for future generations to admire.

To see more photos of Wood Storks, click on this Wood Stork Photo Album link.



TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

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