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The Threatened Wood Stork

In June of 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed the status of the Wood Stork from "endangered" (on the brink of extinction) to "threatened" (likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range).

"The southeast United States breeding population of the wood stork declined from an estimated 20,000 pairs in the 1930's to about 10,000 pairs by 1960, and to a low of approximately 5,000 pairs in the late 1970s. Nesting primarily occurred in the Everglades. The generally accepted explanation for the decline of the wood stork is the reduction in food base (primarily small fish) necessary to support breeding colonies. This reduction is attributed to loss of wetland habitat as well as to changes in water hydroperiods from draining wetlands and changing water regimes by constructing levees, canals, and floodgates to alter water flow in south Florida.

"The Wood Stork's primary diet consists of small fish from 1 to 6 inches long, especially topminnows and sunfish. "They capture their prey by a specialized technique known as grope-feeding or tacto-location. Feeding often occurs in water 6 to 10 inches deep, where a stork probes with the bill partly open. When a fish touches the bill it quickly snaps shut. The average response time of this reflex is 25 milliseconds, making it one of the fastest reflexes known in vertebrates. Wood storks use thermals to soar as far as 80 miles from nesting to feeding areas. Since thermals do not form in early morning, wood storks may arrive at feeding areas later than other wading bird species such as herons. Energy requirements for a pair of nesting wood storks and their young is estimated at 443 pounds of fish for the breeding season (based on an average production of 2.25 fledglings per nest)." Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [Photo: D.F.G. Hailson]

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