Wildlife Refuge Slide Show — By Roddy Scheer

Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, January 2002
Copyright 2003, Roddy Scheer

While not the most handsome of America’s stately wading birds, the wood stork is an important indicator species for the health of wetlands throughout the Southeastern United States. The population of wood storks in Florida has declined from 6,000 nesting birds in the 1960s to just 500 today, leaving researchers to wonder whether their children will ever get to see these large charismatic birds in the wild. Florida’s numerous wildlife refuges play an important role in maintaining viable habitat for the wood storks. Environmentalists hope that the planned restoration of the Everglades will expand nesting opportunities for the birds, which were added to the federal Endangered Species List in 1984.

Wood storks feed not by sight but by touch. They sweep their submerged bills from side to side in shallow murky water, rooting out prey such as small fish. When they come upon food, their bills snap shut with a 25 millisecond reflex action, the fastest known for vertebrates. Only seasonally drying wetlands concentrate enough fish to provide the 440 pounds of food required by a pair of these big birds during breeding season. When natural wetlands cycles are upset by human water management, as is the case throughout all of Central and South Florida, wood storks fail to reproduce in numbers sufficient to propagate their species successfully.

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