Baby Woodstorks – Feeding Sequence

Woodstork Nestlings

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.


Three Woodstork Siblings

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?

Woodsotrk Nestling with Attentive Parent

The nestlings are ready for food; their parent has been working on the fish and is preparing to feed the chicks.

Woodstork Baby Food

The throat of the parent is full of baby food (predigested and broken up fish) and the little ones are watching intently.

A nice Woodstork Meal

Ahh everyone is happy! Chicks are chewing their bits of fish and the parent looks happy to have delivered that meal.

Just Fed Woodstork Nestling

From Mom’s throat to the chick’s!

Woodstork Nestling Satisfied after a good meal

Some people call Woodstorks “Preacher Birds” because after a meal they appear to stand around and contemplate the universe. Maybe they start young?

The Littlest Woodstork

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

~ by Judy on April 18, 2015.

32 Responses to “Baby Woodstorks – Feeding Sequence”

  1. Wonderful post.

  2. Wonderful series

  3. Such an informative post and filled with stunning pictures! I always learn something new when I read your posts. Thank you so much for sharing, Judy.

  4. Fab pictures!

    • Thanks for the comment on the little bitty birds. Wood storks are actually big birds. I though white egrets were large but next to a wood stork they seem much smaller.

  5. I love these birds and your post was absolutely beautiful!!

  6. Amazing photographs and lovely words. Thanks for sharing.

    • Totally my pleasure to share these little guys. I am lucky to be able to see these nests and learn about them first hand. The cycle of life goes by pretty quickly with birds as they grow and fledge so quickly. It is just fun to watch the process.

  7. I like the photos, of course. And one should never refuse education, even about deposits of urates on birds’ legs. That last did, however, bring some grotesque images to mind, but that’s my fault, not yours!

    • Well, you do have to wonder who was the first wood stork that discovered and passed along the advice… if you really want to cool off you’ve gotta pee on your legs?

  8. What’s especially interesting to me is the resemblance between the baby in the top photo, on the left, to my favorite stork: the shoebill. As they age, that resemblance disappears, but it’s clearly there in the baby. It makes me wonder why one developed one way, and the other, differently.

    In any event, it was quite a surprise to see, just as your photos were a delight for someone who doesn’t get to see such things! If only we had telephoto lenses for our eyes!

    • True about the telephoto lenses for our eyes. In a situation like this even though I wasn’t miles away from the birds, it was tough for me to see really well even through the view finder. But, I knew what I was trying to get. So I would watch and as soon as a head popped up, focus, shoot, focus, shoot. Later it will be easier for this particular nest as the young will be bigger each visit I make.

      In fact things were getting a little blurry and I have to concentrate on what I am looking at. So just found out its cataracts in both eyes…viewfinder eye is the better though. Bummer though…..

      Well since the shoebill is a stork, I guess it stands to reason that there might be a familial resemblance in a developmental stage even though the full grown features are different. How diversity evolves, particularly if it is more a look than function, is the subject of much scientific endeavor….and kind of fun.

  9. These are incredible shots, a true inside look at a piece of motherhood and life rarely seen ~ very cool.

    • Thanks so much! I am glad you enjoyed this peek into the family life of wood storks!! For me, I just feel fortunate to be able to observe the process. It is fun to see!

  10. Wow that is so cool!

    • I know it is so cool! All the times I’ve seen the wood stork nests so tantalizing in the distance, and now a chance for a closer view! Guess you can see what happens to those fish you so grandly capture getting caught by the wood storks in your beautiful marsh!!

  11. Omigosh omigosh omigosh! This is AMAZING! My first glimpse into baby Wood storks — I love them even more! THANK you for sharing these wonderful images… What a special, rare treat.

    And, WOW. 443 pounds of fish, eh?

    • Isn’t it amazing the instinct which makes these birds take care of their young so vigorously! I find the whole process a joy to observe. And, to see birds that normally are just viewed from a distance or just flying by in such an intimate setting…is a privilege.

      • So true… I wish I could have seen these guys, up close and personal (well, relatively speaking). I’m always in awe of the depth of their maternal and paternal natures — such incredible WORK.

      • I’ll do my best to give you a virtual visit.

  12. I love birds of all kinds. Your photos just made my day, thank you!

  13. That’s a lot of fish to have to search out. The love they have for each other really comes through in these photos.

    • I apologize for the belated reply!! I agree about the tenderness they show. I find with all the large wading birds that the family bonding and dedication is remarkable. From mating, care of the eggs, food gathering for the chicks, and defending the nest, it seems like it must be more than mere instinct! The parent wood storks really do react when a bird from another nest, same species or not, comes near their chicks!!

  14. i have never seen baby woodstorks.. they are precious! what a joy to be seeing all of these great portraits of your beloved birds!

    • I was excited when the wood storks decided to nest in such a nearby spot!! Usually I can see them off in the distance out of worthwhile camera range!! You think things are the same every year but each season has its surprises.

  15. oh! I’ve just started researching wood storks for some drawings/paintings. Love this glimpse into their “family life.”

    • I get a great deal of pleasure being able to visit a rookery only about 40 minutes away as it really does allow me to peer into the more intimate moments of avian life. I can still remember how charmed I was by my first view of Great Blue Heron chicks. I thought they looked like little rock stars and just like their parents already. While I tend to post to WordPress before my gallery site at A visit to the Florida Birds Gallery might give you some earlier images to look at.

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