Where can I see them?
These wading birds feed and nest in fresh water cypress swamps and salt water mangrove estuaries. They prefer to nest far from predators, so look for them in trees at least 20-25 meters high, and on islands completely surrounded by water. These storks can also nest above invasive species such as Brazilian pepper and Australian pine. Look for flocks feeding and roosting in and around canals and ditches along the sides of roads.
Survival of Woodstock colonies largely depends on the natural cycles of Florida's wetlands. Their reproduction and well-being indicates the health of our wetlands and watersheds. Their breeding is carefully synchronized with the water cycles in wetlands so they can take advantage of maximum food supplies when nestlings and young birds require a hefty amount of fish diet for rapid growth.
The historic breeding range of the Woodstock in the US extended from eastern Texas through the southern tier of the Gulf coast states, but has always occurred on the Florida peninsula. Since the 1930s, development has reduced wetlands size and the construction of canals, levees, and floodgates to drain and control water flow manipulates the natural flow and disturbs breeding populations.
Storks are highly colonial and nest in large rookeries, their breeding cycles are completely dependent on weather and environmental conditions. Colonies nest between November and May. Courting rituals include preening, bill clapping, dancing and then the male presents a stick to the female. If the stick is approved by the female, this becomes the first stick in the breeding pair's nest. Nest construction takes about three days, comprised of sticks, vines, leaves, and lined with Spanish moss. Storks lay two to five eggs, and successful nests will fledge two young birds in good conditions.
Woodstocks feed on small fish from 1-6 inches in length. Their specialized feeding technique known as grope-feeding or tacto-location occurs in water 6-10 inches deep where storks can use their partially open bill to probe. Their bills contain sensitive nerve endings that tell the bill to shut when something makes contact with it. Their bill will quickly snap shut on average of 25 milliseconds, one of the fastest reflexes known to all vertebrates.
The health and reproduction of these southern colonies of Woodstorks dramatically depends on wetland restoration and natural water flow through the cypress swamp.
What do they look like?
Sometimes referred to as the "ironhead" or "woody," this large, white, wading bird gets its name from its featherless, bald, scale-covered head and neck. It uses its black, thick downward curved bill to probe in the water for a tasty meal, and it's 60-65 inch wingspan allows it to drift between nesting and feeding sites on the thermals. While standing at 45 inches tall, this stork appears to have white feathers, a closer look reveals extensive black flight feathers and a black tail. Their long legs are black and their pink feet are partially webbed to aid in wading in the water.