Tuesday, March 17, 2009
If the Stork is said to bring babies - the Wood Stork brings the ugly babies. I had a great opportunity to float up the Caloosahatchee and check on a bird rookery on an island in the middle of the river. There are an estimated 10,000 nesting pairs of endangered Wood Storks in all of Florida with at least 50 nests on this tiny mangrove island. Presumably raccoons and other nest predators can not swim out this far, making this an ideal location for not only Wood Storks, but Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Anhingas, Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons (more on them later).Standing nearly 4 feet tall with a wingspan over 5 feet, this huge wading bird uses its massive beak to probe for fish, crustaceans, insects and even baby gators in the shallow waters in and around the Everglades and other Florida wetlands. When the water levels are right - Wood Storks nest, but during droughts when water is absent and little prey is available they will not nest or abandon nests if they can't collect 400+ lbs of fish for themselves and their young during the nesting season. (I have yet to see the scales they use to weigh their food...) If the water level is too high and prey species can easily disperse - feeding is again complicated and nesting may not occur. Their bald heads and long beaks may not win them any bird beauty pageants but in flight they are gorgeous. I'm using a Canon 40D with a 300mm zoom which allows me to see details that I hadn't noticed before. Check out the peach-colored band on the underside of the wing feathers. I had thought in the past it was simply sunlight coming through the wing. Not so!The nests are made of twigs and branches. They lay 3-4 eggs which hatch in about a month. They fledge (leave the nest) in about 2 months. The drought and human manipulation of the water cycle here in Florida has caused some of the Wood Stork populations to shift breeding to earlier in the season when food is plentiful. Birds at the Corkscrew Swamp were nesting in November while these birds should wrap up nesting in a few weeks. Based on birds flying in from the Northeast - we think they are foraging in the Babcock Wilderness Area a few miles away. While Wood Storks may bring ugly human babies to unsuspecting parents, there is no doubt that their downy white babies are quite adorable. Give them a few months. They'll be bald and goofy looking too.