Despite Dip, Wood Stork Nest Numbers Remain Strong

Brunswick, GA
Thursday, July 23, 2015 - 15:00

Although nest totals fell slightly from last year’s record high, Georgia Department of Natural Resources surveys documented strong wood stork nesting this spring and summer.

Wildlife biologist Tim Keyes, wood stork survey leader for DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division, said aerial and ground surveys in May estimated 2,496 nests in 22 colonies. Follow-up surveys this month documented high productivity. The agency’s Nongame Conservation Section and partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documented wood stork colonies in 12 counties, with surveys covering the coast and ranging as far north as Screven County in southeast Georgia and west to Mitchell County near the state’s southwestern corner.

The nest count is a drop from the record-setting 2,932 nests in 2014, but well above the totals of 1,873 in 2013 and 1,903 in 2012. Annual fluctuations are normal.

“It’s still a great year and a really good count,” said Keyes, who works with the division’s Nongame Conservation Section office in Brunswick.

In 2014, wood storks were down-listed from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The reclassification has not changed protection or conservation measures.

This year, Keyes said a number of small colonies and one big colony in Berrien County were not used. Also, a small colony on Sapelo Island was abandoned in mid-season. But all of the largest colonies were active and produced many nests with more than one chick. Keyes is using follow-up surveys to estimate the number of young, many of which have already fledged.

Wood storks, America’s only true stork, are tall, bald-headed 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.

The Fish and Wildlife Service cited restoration efforts and more comprehensive population data, such as DNR’s surveys, in its decision to down-list wood storks to threatened last year.

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 442 nests at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge in McIntosh County to 15 nests at a site on St. Catherines Island in Liberty County. Colonies were documented in 12 counties: Brantley, Brooks, Camden, Chatham, Cook, Glynn, Jenkins, Liberty, 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 97 percent of the agency’s budget comes from fundraisers, grants and donations.

Help by purchasing or renewing a bald eagle or ruby-throated hummingbird license plate. Thanks to a law change last year, buying or renewing these and other DNR wildlife plates costs only $25 more than a standard tag and up to 80 percent of that fee goes to directly 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.