Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
The impressively large and passive Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) is a waterbird that was formerly called the Wood Ibis, with the name change coming about because it is not actually an ibis at all. Wood Storks are the only stork native to North America and the only stork that breeds in this country, though they are generally found in the extreme southern parts of the country and their range extends as far south as Argentina in South America as well as into the Caribbean. Wood Storks are wetland birds and so they are commonly found near water sources such as swamps, marshes and ponds. They feed by wading in the shallows and eat small fish, tadpoles and crayfish. There is a small population which breeds in southern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina and it is this population which is considered to be endangered. However, those found between Mexico and Argentina are far more abundant and are not considered to be endangered.
Wood Storks measure around 85-115 cm in length, with a wingspan of 150-175 cm. They have long legs and are almost completely white in colour with a long, thick, down-curved bill. The head and top of the neck is black and bald and the white wings have black flight feathers. The tail is usually also black and their legs are peach in colour. Both sexes look alike and are capable of gliding for long periods of time. Juveniles are similar in appearance but with duller beaks and browner necks. Since they have no vocal muscles, they are fairly silent birds that only produce soft noises once in a while. It is interesting to note that they cool themselves off by urinating on their legs. When gliding, they are capable of diving and flipping, though they do look somewhat awkward when they flap their wings.
Nesting season for the Wood Stork is always dry. At this time of the year, lakes shrink and food is forced into smaller areas that are more easily waded. Because the catch is higher, the chicks stay well fed. At this time of year, these birds begin to make their nests in the top of tall trees. More than one bird may nest in the same tree and these birds usually nest in colonies called rookeries. The nests are made from moss, vines and twigs and hold 4-5 eggs. Incubation lasts about 30 days and usually only about two chicks survive the breeding season. The babies are fed by their parents for the first nine weeks during which time the parents take turns watching the nest and hunting for food. After this nine-week period, the juvenile Wood Storks are able to live on their own.