Surveys Highlight Federal Move to Reclassify Species as Threatened
Georgia Department of Natural Resources surveys documented a record number of wood stork nests in the state this year.
The results underscore the federal decision announced today to “down-list” these big, bald-headed wading birds from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Georgia survey leader Tim Keyes of the DNR Wildlife Resources Division said aerial and ground surveys this spring estimated 2,932 nests in 22 colonies, from Camden to Brooks County. The agency’s Nongame Conservation Section and partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the surveys.
The nesting high follows counts of 1,873 last year, 1,903 in 2012 and 2,136 in 2011. Since surveys by air began in the 1990s, the Georgia record had been 2,696 nests in 2010. Annual fluctuations are normal.
Keyes, a wildlife biologist at the Nongame Conservation Section office in Brunswick, is using follow-up surveys to estimate the number of young. The outlook is promising. He pointed to the Gilman rookery in St. Mary’s as an example.
“We banded more chicks at Gilman than ever, about 105. … And they were all healthy.”
Wood storks, America’s only true stork, are tall wading birds that nest in colonies over water and depend on wetlands for food. The birds feed by running their opened beak through the water and snapping it shut when it touches prey, a technique known as tacto-location.
The species was listed as endangered in 1984, with its population shrinking about 5 percent a year and projections marking it at risk of extinction by the year 2000. The decline was blamed on wetland habitat loss and alteration in Florida. Many wood storks now nest in Georgia, which has about 20 percent of the U.S. nesting population.
Today at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge near Townsend, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that wood storks are being reclassified from endangered to threatened. Jewell cited population data – such as DNR’s surveys – and restoration efforts.
The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed down-listing the storks in 2012. The move does not change protection or conservation measures.
Wonder of Wood Storks
- Wood storks use freshwater and estuarine wetlands for breeding, feeding and roosting.
- They are colonial nesters – they nest in colonies – and several nests are often in the same tree.
- The stick nests are built in trees over water, a setting in which alligators unwittingly help protect the eggs and chicks above from raccoons and other predators.
- The first record of wood storks nesting in Georgia was in 1965 on Blackbeard Island.
- This year, colonies in the state ranged in size from 387 nests at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge in McIntosh County to nine nests at a Brantley County site. Colonies were documented in 12 counties: Berrien, Brantley, Brooks, Camden, Glynn, Jenkins, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, Mitchell, Thomas and Worth counties.
- Colonies in southwest Georgia depend more on rainfall and are less stable than those in coastal counties, where many wetlands used by storks are influenced by tides.
- Wood storks also may be spotted soaring on thermal updrafts or gliding to feeding sites. They sometimes range into north Georgia.
- More than 75 percent of the stork rookeries in Georgia are on private land. The success of conservation efforts for this species depends on landowners’ willingness to ensure the protection of viable freshwater wetland nesting sites.
- Learn more about wood storks in Georgia at www.georgiawildlife.com/node/2620 .
How You Can Help
Georgia DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section works to conserve wood storks and Georgia’s other rare and endangered animals and native plants. Yet the agency receives no state general funds, depending instead on fundraisers, grants and donations.
Help by purchasing the new nongame wildlife license plate – a bald eagle in flight! – or renew your older eagle or ruby-throated hummingbird plates. Thanks to a law change this year, starting as soon as July, buying or renewing these and other DNR wildlife plates will cost only $25 more than a standard tag, and more of those fees will be dedicated to conserving Georgia wildlife.
Supporters can also contribute directly to the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. These programs support conservation of wildlife not legally fished for, hunted or collected. Details: www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/support .