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Species Profile: Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)

The wood stork is one of 19 species in the family Ciconiidae and one of four species in the genus Mycteris. Wood storks are the only stork species and the largest wading bird that breeds in the United States. They are large, long-legged birds with a head to tail length of 33 to 45 inches and a wingspan of 59 to 65 inches. Adults are white except for their primary and secondary wing and tail feathers, which are black with a greenish sheen. Adults have an unfeathered head and neck with a long, thick black bill. The legs and feet are dark; toes are pink and are use to lure fish within reach. While their main diet consists of fish, they are known to eat small mammals and even birds. They forage with their bills dipped in the water and partly open, and can clamp down on prey in an average of 25 milliseconds—one of the fastest reflexes known in vertebrates.

Wood Storks used to number more than 60,000 individuals in the U.S. back in the 1930’s, but changes in the hydrology, ecological shifts and atmospheric changes have drop the populations to less than 6,000 breeding pairs. In recent years, the fluctuations on the water levels in South Florida have caused major breeding failures on the species. The species is currently endangered and protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Wood storks are gregarious which means they like to hang out in flocks for feeding and more important, during breeding. They build nests made out of twigs, usually on cypress or other trees in the water, perhaps as a way to keep predators out of reach. Even then, their eggs are predated by crows and snakes that can easily make it to their nests. The females lay from 2-5 eggs that are incubated by both sexes for about 30 days. During the breeding period, the adults with their chicks may eat up to 400 pounds of fish. The adults may fly more than 10 miles in search of food daily to sustain their babies. The babies fledge in about 50 to 55 days.

Polk County is blessed with having one of the largest populations of these birds. Circle B Bar Reserve is one of the best places to find them. Here they’re usually found in groups of 10 or more birds foraging the shallows, sometimes more than 100 birds can be spotted. As more and more land gets developed in and around Polk County, these birds are facing the problem of finding suitable nesting locations. Last year, some tried to nest in Circle B, but perhaps they came in too late for the season and soon abandoned their efforts. We hope this year is more productive for the species.

 

 

 

 

 

 
American Wood Stork

A Wood Stork bringing nesting material.

Juvenile wood storks have a pearly colored bill and their heads are covered in white down.
A common fishing technique of the Wood Stork involves dipping its bill in the water while disturbing the bottom with its feet. The rough looking skin around the head gave these birds its name, due to striking similarity with the bark of trees.
 

115 Lameraux Road ∙ Winter Haven, Florida 33884 (863) 259-8497