Wondrous Wood Stork
I remember making class field trips with my students to the Everglades. Our ranger guides shared some amazing facts about one of the United States’ endangered species, the wood stork. Once I began observing and photographing the wood stork I realized what a truly amazing bird graced my camera lens.
The wood stork is the only stork that breeds in North America. It flies on wings with a span of over five feet and feeds with flocks of other wading birds in the wetlands of South Florida year round. In recent years, it began to winter along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts from Florida west to Texas and north to Georgia and South Carolina. It breeds from November to April if it can find low water pools containing concentrations of small aquatic fish and animals enough to support both parents and young. A nesting pair needs 3.5 lbs of small fish per day or 440 lbs over the breeding period. That’s a whole lot of little fish! To secure sufficient food the birds may need to fly 15-40 miles per day. You’re not the only one who has to work hard to feed your family!
Remember seeing drawings of an airborne stork delivering infants? Well, in recent decades the bird has had an increasingly hard time delivering even its own babies. Flood control in the Everglades wetlands and depletion of mangrove habitats for nesting forced the bird’s numbers to decline by 90% since the 1960’s. Breeding pairs seem to be on the rise, but the bird is not out of danger. As an indicator species, its numbers point to a deterioration in the health of Florida’s diverse wetlands.
The wood stork feeds by feeling its food with its beak (tacto-location) as it swings it back and forth in murky shallow water. Drawn by stirring pink feet, resembling worms wiggling in the muddy bottom or an occasional raised wing creating welcome shade (see canopy feeding in Check Out those Yellow Legs!), fish swim right toward the wood stork and its hair-lined beak. When a passing fish brushes the hairs, the beak snaps shut at an astonishing speed of 25 milliseconds. That’s the fastest reflex of any vertebrate! For reference, a human eye blink takes 200-400 milliseconds. How comprehensive the wood stork’s matchless design is in equipping it for survival. I think that is awe inspiring; don’t you?