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Wood stork (U.S. breeding DPS)

The wood stork (Mycteria Americana) is the only species of stork that regularly occurs in the United States [1]. It may once have bred in all the southeastern coastal states from Texas to South Carolina, but today, the wood stork breeds only in Florida, Georgia, and coastal South Carolina [1]. Post-breeding birds can sometimes be seen as far north as North Carolina and as far west as Mississippi and Alabama [1]. Precipitous declines in the wood stork’s range and population occurred during the mid 1900s [2]. The total population in the southeastern U.S. declined from an estimated 15,000-20,000 pairs in the 1930s to between 4,500 and 5,700 pairs in most years between 1977 and 1980 [1]. This decline was accompanied by a major shift in breeding abundance from southern Florida (where large colonies numbering between 5,000-10,000 nesting pairs were found [1]) to a much more dispersed distribution northward though peninsular Florida and into coastal Georgia and South Carolina [3] where colonies formed at artificial water impoundments and nesting frequently occurred in exotic tree species [4]. The decline in wood stork populations was primarily due to loss of suitable feeding habitat [1]. In south Florida in particular, manipulation of water levels through levees, canals, and floodgates changed natural water regimes and affected the stork’s habitat [1].

Wood stork populations are monitored using aerial synoptic surveys to count nests [5]. Although population estimates based on this technique can be biased by changes in colony location and may underestimate population size, it is considered the most effective method for monitoring long term population trends [5]. Aerial surveys were conducted over a ten-year period starting in 1975 and again over two five-year periods starting in 1991 and 2001 [5]. The number of nesting colonies increased from 29 at the time of listing in 1984 to 71 in 2002 and numbers of nests increased from an estimated 6,040 in 1984 to 8,985 in 2002 [5]. Increases seen starting in the late 1990s in southern Florida may have been in part due to favorable rainfall and drying patterns [6]. Future monitoring will continue to track population trends and will also help to monitor effectiveness of the “Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan,” a recent long-term plan intended to restore more natural water regimes to the Everglades [6].

Reclassification from endangered to threatened can be considered when the downlisting criteria of 6,000 nesting pairs with annual regional productivity >1.5 chicks per nest per year (averaged over three years) are met [1]. In 2002, a scientific protocol was drafted for monitoring stork nest productivity and data collection began in 2003 to assess progress towards this goal [5].

[1] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1997. Revised Recovery Plan for the U.S. Breeding population of the Wood Stork. Atlanta, GA. 41p.
[2] Rodgers, J.A. Jr., S.T. Schwikert, and L. White. 2004. Productivity of Wood Storks in North and Central Florida. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wood Stork Report Newsletter 3(1), April 2004.
[3] Meyer, K.D. and P.C. Frederick. 2004. Final Report: Survey of Florida’s Wood Stork (Mycteria Americana) Nesting Colonies, 2004. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, GA.
[4] Brooks, B. 2002. Background on Wood Stork (Mycteria Americana). Power Point Presentation.
[5] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2003. Wood Stork Report Newsletter 2(1), March 2003.
[6] Ogden, J.C. 2004. Status of Wading Bird Recovery in Florida -2003. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wood Stork Report Newsletter 3(1), April 2004.

Banner photo © Phillip Colla