The wood stork was not long ago a threatened species. This means that there are not many left, and that we need to protect them. Pollution and habitat destruction (due to building and development) are the stork’s major enemies. In the past 60 years their number has dropped from 60,000 down to approximately 9,000. The health and existence of the wood stork is a good way for us to measure the health of the wetlands where they live. Since the wood storks are disappearing, what does that tell us about our wetlands?


Wood storks are large water birds that stand 2-4 feet tall and weigh 7-10 pounds. They have wingspans as wide as 5 1/2 feet. They are mostly white, but have a black tail and many black feathers under their wings. Storks are related to ibises, herons and flamingos. They have no feathers on their head and neck, so the black skin underneath shows up. This makes wood storks the only tall water birds with black, bald heads. Since they have no muscles attached to their voice box, they are very quiet birds. Every now and then they will croak like a bullfrog, or hiss like a snake. Wood storks have long, skinny legs and a long, curved beak. Storks can glide for a long time on warm wind currents. Sometimes they dive and flip as they soar down from high in the sky. When they do flap their wings, they look awkward and clumsy. Sometimes they fly in flocks with egrets and ibises. Woodstorks can cool themselves by urinating (peeing) on their legs. When the sun evaporates the urine, it cools them off, like sweat. They are the only type of stork native to North America. If they are healthy, the wetlands where they live are probably healthy too.


Wood storks are wetland birds. That means that they live near water. They can be found in swamps, marshes, and ponds in the southern United States, and as far south as Argentina in South America. Wood storks are wading birds. That means that they walk along slowly in shallow waters looking for food. They eat small fish, tadpoles, and crayfish. A woodstork hunts for these animals by wading in the water with its bill (beak) open, just under the water’s surface. When a fish passes by its open bill, the bird snaps its bill shut, catching some dinner!


Wood storks always plan their breeding season around a time when there will be plenty of food. They need over four hundred pounds of fish during a single breeding season to feed themselves and their babies. Wetland drying seasons help the wood storks feed their babies. When lakes dry up and shrink, all the fish have to live in smaller ponds where they are easier for the wood stork parents to catch. Wood storks make their nests in the tops of tall trees, and they live in colonies. Colonies are areas where several stork families live together. They build their nests out of moss, vines, and twigs. Wood storks usually lay 4 or 5 eggs, and the babies hatch in about 30 days. If two babies from each nest can survive, the colony has had a successful breeding season. The babies are fed up to 15 times a day for the first eight weeks, and when they are nine weeks old, they can live on their own. The parents will watch over the nest and take turns hunting for food. A colony of wood storks is called a rookery. The storks will leave their nests and never return if they are frightened. For this reason, it is important never to disturb them.


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