It’s Wood Stork Nesting Season!

Woodstork Pair Nest Building with newly gathered twigs

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.


Woodstork Portrait in Morning Light

Wood Stork aka Wood Ibis aka Old Flinthead in a confident pose!

Woodstork in Black and White

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.

Chatty Woodstork in morning light

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.

Plate-216-Audubon - Wood Ibis - wps

John James Audubon’s Plate 216 of the Wood Ibis


~ by Judy on March 26, 2015.

19 Responses to “It’s Wood Stork Nesting Season!”

  1. great photographs of an extraordinary bird!!

    • I think you have been places and have seen related species haven’t you? I think Africa has a closely related bird with a more colorful bill. I hope to go back and take pictures when the eggs hatch to see the little ones up close for the first time.

  2. Wonderful. Thank you.

  3. I love these birds!!

    • I know they really are a cool species…with their flinty neck, striking forehead shield and that strong bill. They are quite graceful in flight and have those really pink feet!!

  4. As usual, you can make the -er- ugliest face a thing of beauty — and truly, the wood stork has a face only a mother could love! 🙂
    The wood stork is also such a striking and beautiful flyer. With those striking black “wing flaps”, these wonderful creatures look like jumbo jets coming in for a landing. Love ’em. They can also be quite lazy – you often find them feeding side by side with spoodbills and snowies. Let the little guys roil the water, and snap up an easy meal.

    • Never thought about the lazy idea, taking advantage of the prey other birds might kick up. I think of Cattle Egrets that way….they hop along after the big grazing beasts for the insects they disturb. But, Wako was the first place I ever saw the wood storks swish their pink foot and fancy black toe nails for finding prey.

      You sound like my husband…a face only a mother can love…and since he is not their mom, he doesn’t exactly get they appeal to me. LOL!!

  5. That’s a big bird! Looking forward to viewing more of your superb photos!

    • I am really looking forward to seeing what the chicks look like in person!! So happy they decided to nest closer by. Thanks for taking a look at the old baldie!!

  6. Judy what a fine creature, good to know that you have seen many. Interesting features, looks like the birds head is carved in stone. I bet it is soft though. Look forward to the baby shots too.

  7. That first image reminds me of Plato – the pelican that brought us together, so to speak.

    When I saw the name “Tantulus loculator,” the first thing that came to mind was the legend of Tantulus. Tantalus misbehaved and was punished by the gods by being made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches. Whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches raised his intended meal from his grasp. Whenever he bent down to get a drink, the water receded before he could get any.

    Given what you say about the wood stork’s feeding habits, and the tendency for it to make use of shallower water, the name makes sense. Of course, we get our word “tantalize” from Tantulus: the word a term for temptation without satisfaction. No doubt many wood storks have been tantalized by fish just out of reach.

    I usually have nothing but admiration for Audubon’s work, and of course this is lovely, too. Still, I think your photos outshine his rendering this time around.

    • I intended to go more into the meanings of the genus names but got interested in the taxonomy from the standpoint of the page placement result. I knew about tantalus and the fruit tree but not the retreating water. Makes it actually a very good tie in with the dry season and diminishing pools for concentration of fish. But also that the presence of fish sensed by the bird with the open partially submerged bill could be described as being tantalized by the sense of the fish. Interesting, I didn’t see about Mycteria yet but wonder if it could have as meaningful a tie in. Will poke around and see.

      I always appreciate your studied comments on these matters of the words.

  8. What beautiful portraits… I adore these guys. I call them our “gentlemen.” 🙂 They’re so regal, and smooth. I hope FLA can take care of the ecosystems that they need to survive. Grassy Waters has some amazing areas, with LOTS of these lovelies!

    • So happy to see you here!! I know you would love to be visiting the nests this year. The wood storks have never been at that front island before. So it will be so interesting to see their little ones soon. Ever since I even knew what a Wood Stork was I’ve thought they were a regal and interesting species. We must be doing something right with the numbers increasing. We have learned and I look forward to continuing good management to protect this diverse heritage in wildlife we have always.

      • Ohhh I was going to ask where they were — so the front island! I don’t think I’ve ever seen them there. So much easier to photo than the far areas that they usually like! It really IS wonderful to see their numbers (seemingly) increase. Now for our black bears (sigh)…

      • I made a rare morning visit to the rookery today thinking of getting pictures of the ‘hopefully’ white egret hatchling/s. That nest was favorable for light from the east. But, I was disappointed as the nest was vacated with only one broken blue egg sitting there to let us know what was. 😦

        However, the wood storks in the front island had some cute little chicks looking all happy and healthy. Took pics and may post but a return in late day will be in order for nice ones of the little cuties. So back on the weekend if I can!! Will share!!

      • Ohhhh so so so jealous!! I can’t wait to live there, through you. 🙂 I’m so excited to see images of the chicks — as many times as I’ve run into the storks, I’ve YET to see a baby… The nests were always too high up, and too far, for my lens!

      • My sentiments exactly…always too far! And now a surprise opportunity to show these interesting birds.

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