Life in a rookery has its many beautiful moments however the energies and amounts of fish required for avian parents to sustain themselves and their young can make for a gooey mess at times. Woodstork families will need an estimated 443 pounds of fish each breeding season and in the first two weeks of life the chicks are fed as often as 17 times per day. It is truly exhausting work. Woodstorks will not breed if conditions do not support the needed quantities of food. In times of natural drought or flooding or with unfavorable man-made hydrologic changes, they simply won’t nest. This is one reason they are considered an indicator species for the health of the Everglades ecosystem. While Woodstorks were upgraded from endangered to threatened in June of 2014 after three decades of conservation effort, the challenge will be to continue with the work and secure this great natural ecosystem forever.
This is why it is such a pleasure to witness several healthy nesting pairs in proximity I have never seen before. The scenes here are of baby Woodstorks about two weeks old by my very loose reckoning. This sequence shows hungry chicks ready for a meal while their parent patiently digests fish already in its gullet. When ready the parent bird will lean into the nest with open mouth and predigested fish will plop out onto the waiting baby beaks.
Taking their pictures at this time was somewhat challenging due to their small size and being hidden behind the fringing leaves and structure of their crib. So you have to wait until something happens that energizes the little ones to stretch and raise their heads above the rim of the nest to get a view of their faces. Generally, that stimulation is being hungry and seeking food. Movement can be awkward and often the head will be thrust back and fall forward as if it were too big to hold steady like all babies. Already they will shake their heads in a side to side movement typical of their species. Nest watching involves periods where all are still and snoozing in the nest and even the parent on duty stands by with eyes closed. Then a great flurry of activity as feeding begins, difficult to realize in stills but fun to remember.
This nest has three chicks. Woodstorks can lay up to 4 or 5 eggs and on average two chicks will survive to fledge. While these pictures are of a single nest, Woodstorks are a gregarious species and nest in colonies. There are several nests in this same island with chicks about the same age. Most appear to have three hatched chicks. Aren’t they cute?
The nestlings are ready for food; their parent has been working on the fish and is preparing to feed the chicks.
The throat of the parent is full of baby food (predigested and broken up fish) and the little ones are watching intently.
Ahh everyone is happy! Chicks are chewing their bits of fish and the parent looks happy to have delivered that meal.
From Mom’s throat to the chick’s!
Some people call Woodstorks “Preacher Birds” because after a meal they appear to stand around and contemplate the universe. Maybe they start young?
While siblings are flopped over in the nest sated, not sure the littlest one got its fill?
Oh, if you are wondering about the streaks of white liquid on the legs of the adult Woodstorks, it is due to peeing on the legs for cooling basically. In some stork species their legs act as a radiator to cool down the stork’s body when it is very hot. They deposit urates (in birds, a combination of urine and feces) onto their legs so that the moisture evaporates and cools the underlying blood vessels.
Let us work for the continued health of this interesting Everglades bird and its entire ecosystem home.
LEARN MORE – about the biology and status of the Woodstork with these links:
Everglades National Park – Woodstork Species Profile
North Florida Ecological Services – Species Biologue – Woodstork
Scientific American – Woodstork Removed from Endangered Species List 6/26/2014
Interesting nesting data showing decrease and increase in nesting pairs from 1975 thru 2013 but with changes in locations of nests
Habitat Management Guidelines for the Wood Stork in the Southeast Region – January 1990