Wood Stork

Mycteria americana
Range Map

The Wood Stork is the only stork and the largest wading bird that breeds in the United States. Populations in the United States have dropped from 20,000 pairs in the 1930s to 10,000 pairs by 1960 and 5,000 pairs in the 1970s. This bird is considered threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is an improvement from its former status as endangered. Researchers generally agree the drop in population is because of loss of habitat for feeding and water management practices that draw water down below the levels required for these birds to feed, and protect their nesting rookeries from ground predators, such as racoons.

These bizarre looking birds primarily range year round in South America, east of the Andes Mountains and north of Argentina. They are also resident in coastal Ecuador, Venezuela, coastal Central America, Florida, and Cuba. Nonbreeding birds will wander widely, and we find them on both coasts of Mexico, in southern California, on the Gulf coast of the USA, and the southeast USA from the Gulf of Mexico to the south Atlantic coast. Georgia and South Carolina host summer breeding birds too.

Despite such a wide and varied range, science does not recognise any subspecies of Wood Stork (i.e. they are monotypic).

I’ve yet to visit Florida, still the most reliable location to find these birds, but I have met them in south Texas and southern California. My favorite memory of meeting Wood Storks was from 2009 at the Salton Sea during the summer’s worst heat. While scouting the southeastern shore near a location called Red Hill and the Alamo River delta one afternoon, I spotted one of these birds flying low over the river channel. I knew of a marsh 3 or 4 miles further south where I’d found these birds in 2004. I made a point of spending the night in my RV near this marsh. Rising with the sun the next morning, I positioned myself with a view of a patch of open water in the perfect crack of dawn lighting. Within a few minutes, a trio of Wood Storks came sailing in and I captured images of their landing, then enjoyed watching them forage on the glassy shallow water.

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