Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)

 

WHAT DOES A WOODSTORK LOOK LIKE?  Wood Storks are large water birds that are about 3 feet tall.  Their wings open up 5 feet wide.  They are mostly white, but have a black tail and many black feathers under their wings.  Storks are related to ibises, herons, and flamingoes.  They have no feathers on their head and neck, so their black skin is easy to see from far away.  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 a bit clumsy.  Sometimes they fly in flocks with egrets and ibises.  Wood storks can cool off by urinating (peeing) on their legs.  When the sun evaporates the urine, it cools them off, like sweat.  If the wood storks are healthy, the wetlands where they live are probably healthy.

HOW DO THEY HUNT?  Wood storks live in warm wet places.  They wade or walk along slowly in shallow water looking for food.  They usually eat small fish, tadpoles, and crayfish.  A wood stork hunts for these animals by wading in the water with its bill (beak) open, just under the water’s surface.  Its long legs keep its feathers high and dry while it hunts.  When fish pass by, the bird snaps its bill shut, catching some dinner!

 WHAT ABOUT BABY WOODSTORKS?  Wood storks plan to have babies when there will be plenty of fish to eat.   They need over 400 pounds of fish to feed the family each season.  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.  When many stork families live together, it’s called a “rookery.”  They build their nests out of moss, vines, and twigs.  Wood storks usually lay 4-5 eggs, and if 2 babies survive each year, that is good luck.  When the babies are small, they eat 15 meals each day!  The mother and father take turns hunting and protecting the nest.  At 9 weeks old, the babies can take care of themselves.  If you scare them, wood storks will leave their nests and never come back.  So, be careful, and don’t disturb a nest!

WHAT IS AN ENDANGERED SPECIES?  The wood stork is an endangered species.  This means that there are not many left, and we need to make sure they have places to live that are not polluted.  Sixty years ago, there were 60,000 wood storks.  Today, there are only 9,000 left.  If the wood storks are dying, what does that tell us about our wetlands?  Are the ponds and marshes dying too?  You can help wetlands by picking up trash near the water!

RESOURCES:

Terres, John K. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New Your: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1987.

Provided by the Pelotes Island Nature Preserve
http://pelotes.jea.com

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