For North America's Only Native Stork, a Milestone

Wood stork may be able to come off the endangered species list
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 14, 2023 2:19 PM CST
A Milestone for Only Stork Native to North America
A flock of wood storks mingles with egrets as they stand in a retention pond along a road in Atlantic Beach, Fla.   (Bob Mack/The Florida Times-Union via AP, File)

The ungainly yet graceful wood stork, which was on the brink of extinction in 1984, has recovered sufficiently in Florida and other Southern states that US wildlife officials on Tuesday proposed removing the wading bird from the endangered species list. The Fish and Wildlife Service said that restoration of the wood stork's habitat, especially in the Florida Everglades and adjacent Big Cypress National Preserve, led to a sharp increase in breeding pairs, per the AP. Those numbers had shrunk to just 5,000 pairs in 1984, whereas there are more than 10,000 pairs today.

In addition, the wood stork has increased its range in coastal areas of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas, officials said. The birds have adapted to new nesting areas in those states, tripling the number of colonies across their range from 29 to 99 in recent years. Credit goes mainly to the wildlife protections provided by the Endangered Species Act, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at environmental group the Center for Biological Diversity. The FWS will take comments on the proposal through April 17, then publish a final decision on whether to remove the bird from the endangered species list.

Wood storks have a distinctive scaly, featherless gray head and a bright white feathered body with long skinny legs. They are fairly large, standing up to 4 feet tall and with a wingspan of up to 5 feet. The nesting pairs lay three to five eggs per year, although the eggs are frequently targeted by predators such as raccoons and other birds. Their bald heads give wood storks an almost prehistoric appearance, leading to nicknames such as “stonehead” and “flinthead.” Wood storks feed in shallow waters on fish, insects, frogs, and crabs depending on whether it's the wet or dry season. They are the only stork native to North America.

(More wood stork stories.)

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