Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wood Stork population - Positive Upgrade to 'Threatened' Status

Wood Stork at rest in a Cypress Tree in the Lowcountry

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reports that wood storks in the Southeastern U.S. no longer face imminent danger of extinction. Those with exposure to the Lowcountry saltwater ecosystem in the 1980’s can remember exactly when the large black and white storks appeared. The wood storks soared into the hearts of local birders, and conservation measures over the last three decades are helping to ensure that the wood storks stay on a path towards recovery.

Soaring wood stork with broad wingspan and markings
On June 26, 2014 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the official announcement to 'downlist' the wood stork from 'Endangered' to 'Threatened.' Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell made the announcement at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. When wood storks were listed as endangered in 1984, their population was dropping by 5-percent annually. In 1997 the recovery plan defined a three-year average of 6000 nests as a goal for sustainability. Then from 2003 to 2012 the average jumped from 7000 to 10,000 nests over several three year cycles.

A flock of Ibis can look similar to wood storks
According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources there were no wood stork nesting pairs in S.C. until 1981, when eleven nesting pairs were documented. Prior to that date the wood storks were mostly found in Florida, but began to migrate north when development and habitat destruction put them on the search for suitable habitat. SCDNR counted 1,827 wood stork nests in S.C. during 2012. The balance of U.S. wood stork nests are found in Florida and Georgia.

Amateur birders may observe that herons and egrets hunt visually, with darting head movements to snatch their prey. While wood storks are tactile feeders who stalk shallow water flats and feel around with their bill for fish or crustaceans. Natural wetlands and impoundments where they can feed are very attractive to wood storks, and their proximity to nesting habitat is critical for rookery selection.

Rookery Cypress Tree and happy wood stork
The SCDNR reports the 2012 wood stork nesting colonies by county. Beaufort County leads with five colonies, Charleston County has four colonies, Colleton and Horry Counties have three colonies, while Georgetown and Jasper Counties have two colonies. Two of these colonies are on SCDNR managed lands at Dungannon wildlife management area (WMA) in Hollywood, and the Donnelly WMA near Green Pond.

When witnessing a nesting colony and rookery a casual observer might remark that it is simply a place bustling with bird life. While the romantic outdoors type might pause and give thanks to God that he saw fit to provide such a mechanism that protects our mighty feathered flock, so that they can reproduce and grace our wetlands with their stunning and chiseled beauty forever. Amen.

To view a past blog entry about Whooping Cranes in S.C. click here.


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