Wood Stork Life History

Information about Wood Stork nesting, foraging, and range.

Wood Storks typically nest in cypress or mangroves but have been known to nest in pine, Brazilian pepper, and artificial nest platforms.  Colonies are usually over water or on islands as the presence of alligators provides some relief from raccoons and other nest predators.  Nesting storks have been known to fly over 50 miles one way in search of food. 

Fish between 1 and 10 inches in length make up the bulk of their diet; however, early in the breeding season in southwest Florida, locally abundant crayfish are believed to contribute significantly.  It takes an estimated 440lbs of these small fish and crayfish over the 13 week nesting season for a pair to successfully fledge chicks.  

If the foraging opportunity is good, these fledged storks will remain in and around the colony for another month, fine tuning their fishing skills and building flight muscles.  These storks have a better chance of surviving the wet season than those who are forced to travel great distances soon after fledging in search of food.

The US population of wood storks range from South Florida to the Southern tip of North Carolina and west through Alabama.  Most colonies outside of Florida are close to the coast.  Most US storks winter in South Florida, arriving in large numbers in October.  They are asynchronous nesters.   Historically, South Florida colonies would initiate nesting in November or December, while colonies further north would wait until spring. 

Since the late 1970’s South Florida Wood Stork colonies have delayed nesting usually waiting until January or February to initiate.  This delay is accompanied by a significant drop in productivity.

Nesting Wood Storks have been documented feeding in a wide variety of wetland habitats from closed canopy forests to open water. Whereas most wading birds are visual feeders, Wood Storks feed by touch (tactilocation), partially opening their bill and snapping it shut when fish brush against it as they swim through.  They are highly efficient when prey are heavily concentrated in shallow water. 

Over the course of the dry season water levels in South Florida can drop over four feet.  This recession serves to concentrate the fish, and once the water level drops below 16”, Wood Storks will come in to feed.

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