March 2014 Bird Photo of the Month

Wood Stork with nest material © Lisa Willnow
Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)

What is this Wood Stork doing? It’s that time of year… Yes, this large bird is carrying a branch to build a large platform nest of sticks. Lisa Willnow used her Sony SLT-A65V, f/11, 1/1250 sec, ISO-800, Sony 70-300 mm lens to catch the action. Our only native stork is a tropical and subtropical species that breeds in the U.S. only in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and recently in Louisiana. Storks nest in colonies on islands where alligators beneath the trees discourage the most common nursery predator, the raccoon.

Male Storks choose the nest site, begin nest building, and initiate courtship. Pink feet indicate breeding readiness in both sexes. When he accepts a female, together they preen, display, copulate, and finish building the nest. After eggs are laid, the parents take turns incubating the eggs and bringing food to the fledglings.

Though a newborn chick weighs only two ounces, it will often eat 60% of its body weight daily and grow to adult size when fledging at 2-3 months old. The parents continue to feed it for a few more weeks. With the voracious appetites to fill, parents seek nesting sites only when spring low water levels concentrate fish. Tidal wetlands also serve to concentrate fish twice daily, creating good fishing. Often, storks use thermals to soar with White Pelicans and vultures to fly miles in search for fish concentrations indicated by flocks of herons and egrets in marshes. With too much rain, cold weather, or poor water management, fish become harder to catch for this tactile feeder, despite its having extremely fast reflexes in snapping its bill to trap a fish.

If fish do not concentrate, storks abandon their nests and young. Thus, when scientists discovered that breeding depends on low spring water levels, restoration biologists added that requirement to the Everglades restoration plan.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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