Large, white Wood Storks wade through southeastern swamps and wetlands, towering over almost all other wetland birds. They are great fliers, soaring on thermals with their neck and legs outstretched.
Wood Storks are hefty wading birds with football-shaped bodies perched atop long legs. They have a long neck and a long, thick bill that is curved at the tip. They fly with their neck and legs outstretched but tend to perch with the neck drawn in, giving them a humpbacked appearance. Wood Storks are entirely white except for their black flight feathers and tail. The head is unfeathered and scaly-looking.
Wood Storks are between the size of a crow and a goose. They have a length of 33.5-45.3 inches (85-115 centimeters), a weight of 72.3-93.1 ounces (2,050-2,640 grams), and a wingspan of 59.1-68.9 inches (150-175 centimeters).
OccurrenceWood Storks are primarily non-migratory, but populations in Georgia and South Carolina move to Florida for the winter. Wood Storks breed in fresh and brackish forested wetlands. They forage in wetlands, swamps, ponds, and marshes with water depths of around 4–12 inches. They tend to use open wetlands more frequently for foraging than closed canopy wetlands. Wood Storks roost in trees along the water's edge.
Wood Storks primarily prey on fish and other aquatic invertebrates, but sometimes eat seeds, amphibians, nestlings, and reptiles. They walk slowly through wetlands with their bill in the water, feeling for prey. When they feel something on their bill, they quickly snap it closed, swallowing the prey whole. To find food they also push their feet up and down in the water or flick their wings to startle their prey. Storks also visually search for prey, but more frequently use their bill to feel for it, especially in muddy waters.
Wood Storks nest in trees above standing water. Almost any tree or shrub will do as long as standing water is present.
In order to build the nest, males and females gather sticks from the surrounding areas. Together they build a large, bulky stick nest 3–5 feet wide. They line the nest with greenery that eventually gets covered in guano, which helps hold the nest together. Nest building typically takes 2–3 days, but the pair continues to make improvements throughout the nesting period.
Wood Storks have one brood per year with one to five creamy white eggs in each. The eggs are 2.4-2.9 inches (6.1-7.3 centimeters) in length and 1.3-2.2 inches (3.4-5.5 centimeters) wide. Nesting period is 50-55 days. At hatching, the nestlings are covered in fine white down except on the head.
Wood Storks are social birds that forage in groups and nest in colonies. Small groups of storks forage in wetlands, frequently following each other one by one in a line. In the late afternoon, when temperatures rise, Wood Storks often take to the sky, soaring on thermals like raptors. They nest in tight colonies with egrets and herons and generally show little aggression, but if a bird or mammal threatens them, they may pull their neck in, fluff up their feathers, and walk toward the intruder. The threats are also met with bill clattering and jabbing. Despite the myth that Wood Storks mate for life, pairs form at the breeding colony and stay together only for a single breeding season. Males initially are hostile to the female, but once he accepts her into the territory he starts preening her and offering her sticks.
Wood Storks are usually silent, but nestlings make a ruckus at the breeding colonies. They make a loud nasal sound, a bit like a braying donkey.
Wood Storks also make a clattering sound by snapping their bills together during courtship.
The Wood Stork's populations have remained stable recently and is a species of low conservation concern. Wood Stork populations are vulnerable to changes in water levels. During dry years or in years when extensive water diversion projects reduce the amount of standing water below nest trees, a colony may forgo nesting. Low water levels can also increase nest predation from terrestrial predators such as raccoons. It can also affect foraging opportunities as fewer prey are available.
- To keep nestlings cool, Wood Stork parents regurgitate water over the nestlings.
- Storks, mainly the White Stork of Europe, figure prominently in mythology.
- The oldest recorded Wood Stork was at least 20 years and 2 months old. It had been banded in Georgia in 1994 and was identified by its band in the wild in South Carolina in 2014.
- Wood Storks are called Tántalo Americano (in Spanish) and Tantale d'Amérique (in French).