Intimate View of a Wood Stork Pair Nest Building
Once called the Wood Ibis for its re-curved bill resembling that of a true Ibis, the Wood Stork is the only stork which lives and breeds in Florida. My favourite nickname for the Wood Stork is Old Flinthead for the rough black skin which covers the head and neck of this large waterbird. While the Wood Stork’s numbers have improved, it is still the most endangered of the waterbirds here in Florida. As of June 26 of 2014 the US Fish and Wildlife Service upgraded its classification from’ endangered’ to a ‘threatened’ species. In my years observing Wood Storks, I find with time that I have been seeing them much more frequently and in greater numbers. The largest breeding population is in Florida in the old growth cypress forests, primarily Corkscrew Swamp.
Taxonomically, the Wood Stork is in the Genus Mycteria and family Ciconiidae. The black- faced stork you see here is Mycteria americana. I have included Audubon’s Plate 216 of the Wood Ibis in this post and you’ll notice that he has used the genus/specie name of Tantalus loculator for the Wood Ibis. Always curious about taxonomy, I did a search to learn a little about the difference in today’s name and Audubon’s reference. Apparently there was some confusion in the genus names Mycteria and Tantalus from even 1758 when Linneaus originally described them and the figures in Systema Naturae. Both genera were monotypic with Mycteria having the single species Mycteria americana and Tantalus having the single species Tantalus loculator, but both names related to the same species of bird. Article 30 of the International Code of Nomenclature states: “A genus proposed with a single original species takes that species as its type.” So M. americana became the type and T. loculator which appeared second on the page in Linneaus’ book ( Syst. Nat., ed. X, 1758, P. 140) became therefore, a synonym by virtue of page placement. At least if I am reading that correctly. A more detailed discussion can be found by clicking: ‘The Generic Names Mycteria and Tantalus of Linnæus, 1758′, by JA Allen, The Auk, Vol 25, No 1, pp 37-38, which was published in Jan of 1908 with citations in the late 1800’s. Of course, Audubon named his plate prior to that as Havell engraved it in 1834.
The Wood Stork forages in fresh, salt and brackish water marshes, generally in areas where water levels are lower allowing a concentration of fish to feed on. The birds patiently step along slowly and deliberately in the shallow water seeking aquatic prey such as fish or frogs and sometimes large insects. Prey is located by touch or tacto-location rather than sight or smell. The wood stork stands in shallow water with one foot stirring up the water in what I call a foot swish technique, and keeps its bill open and partially submerged. When a fish is detected the wood stork forcefully snaps it shut. This feeding technique does require a good concentration of fish to feel around for and often breeding and feeding young is timed for the drier times of year. Anything that reduces the number of fish in a marsh has impact on the health of the wood stork. During breeding season it takes 400 pounds of fish to feed the parents and chicks of one Wood Stork family.
Wakodahatchee Wetlands, where these images were taken, has had breeding Wood Storks for the 5 seasons I have enjoyed visiting the rookery. In the past they have located their nests on the further out tree islands making any kind of detailed photography less likely. However, this year some pairs have relocated to nesting islands much closer to the pathway providing a wonderful opportunity to observe them up close.
As with the other large wading birds, the male and female quite equitably share the duties of gathering materials and building the nest. Though like some of the herons, the male may be the primary gatherer and the female the interior designer. At this very moment nests constructed of various twigs and vines are occupied by Wood Stork pairs busily taking turns incubating their eggs and making the food runs. Incubation takes about 30 days and as many as 4 to 5 eggs can be laid. Typically, only two chicks within a single nest will survive the season. When the nestlings are about four weeks old, both parents can leave the nest for food gathering and fledgling wood storks can survive on their own at about nine weeks of age.
I greatly look forward to my first views of baby wood storks and sharing them here in a few short weeks.
Wood Stork aka Wood Ibis aka Old Flinthead in a confident pose!
This wood stork has already pair bonded and alights back home at the nesting colony. The black and white portrait shows off its feather detail and the flinty texture of its neck which understandably gives the bird its nickname Old Flinthead.
Wood stork begins its day in a friendly mood and feathers beautifully backlit by the eastern sun of a Florida morning. This treatment is a black and white given a very light sepia tone.
John James Audubon’s Plate 216 of the Wood Ibis