The Wood Stork

The Wood Stork

Some of my best work is captured right here in and around the Everglades. One of the largest and most diverse wetlands in the United States, the legendary “river of grass” stretches 1.5 million acres across South Florida and encompasses nine unique habitats of abundant mangroves, Cypress swamps, and freshwater sloughs—just to name a few. If you’re a nature lover and you’ve never been, I highly encourage you to plan a visit. The terrain boasts one of the most unique and treasured landscapes in the world and has subsequently become a place to call home for over 350 different known species—many of them endangered or threatened, like the Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) and the Reddish Egret.

Sadly, the Everglades is also one of country’s most threatened subtropical wetlands, thanks in large part to climate change and a litany of natural and man-made threats. Being that it’s the most important breeding area for wading birds and other animals in North America, countless species depend on its health and longevity for survival—preserving and protecting the integrity of the land and life that flourishes there is undeniably paramount. What once covered more than three million acres from the Florida Keys to Orlando has now been reduced to less than half.

As you’ve probably surmised given the title of the article, in this piece I’m going to be talking more in depth about the Wood Stork specifically and sharing with you some of my favorite photographs of these gregarious, prehistoric looking, scaly water birds. So, without further ado, let’s fly, shall we?

Meet the Wood Stork

  • Scientific Name: Mycteria americana
  • Order: Ciconiiformes
  • Family: Ciconiidae (storks)
  • Conservation Status: Near threatened
  • Size & Wingspan: 33 to 45 inches tall; 4.9 to 5.8-ft wingspan
  • Lifespan: 11 to 18 years on average


If we’re being honest, Wood Storks are pretty awkward looking, but certainly beautiful in their own right. The only stork indigenous to North America, these wading birds are tall and robust with a football-shaped body dawning long black legs and pink toes.

They have long, featherless necks and notably bald, scaly heads that are embellished with thick yellowish-black and downward-curving beaks. Their flight feathers are mostly white with contrasting wing tips, trailing edges, and tails that are outlined in black with a green hue shimmer.

The “undercarriage” of their wings glows a beautiful, iridescent green when sunlight strikes them at just the right angle. Plumage on young wood storks is like adults in their first year—white feathers, just with an added tinge of light beige. During year two, juveniles gain their all-white plumage—the feathers they’ll have throughout the rest of their lives.

Adult Wood Storks weigh four to six pounds, stand at over three feet tall—easily towering over most other wetland birds—and have a wingspan of over five feet. For a quick size comparison, a Wood Stork is larger than a Great Egret, but smaller than a Great Blue Heron.

These ungainly storks are excellent fliers, soaring the skies above much like an Osprey. Seen flying high on hot, sunny South Florida days, a Wood Stork in flight produces slow deliberate wingbeats, their lengthy necks and legs both elongated. When perched, they typically hold their neck in, giving them a hunchbacked appearance.


Limited to foraging in water no deeper than 10 to 12 inches, wood storks live, nest, and feed in and around shallow fresh and brackish water wetlands, lagoons, flooded farm fields, marshes, marine estuaries, streams, ponds, swamps, and mangroves—especially thriving in areas with an open canopy. They are exceptionally sociable birds so it’s not uncommon to find them in flocks, flying in the famous V-shaped formation.

This native lumbering aviator can only be found in a few places in the U.S. depending on the season. Breeding, non-breeding, and migratory Wood Storks can be found in coastal South Carolina, Georgia, southern Texas, southern California, Louisiana, Florida, Missouri along the Mississippi River, and as far north as the Delaware Bay. Additionally, they’re found in other places around the world like Mexico, Cuba, Central, and South America.

Where to See a Wood Stork

If you’re wanting to catch a glimpse of a Wood Stork yourself, visit a coastal wildlife area or wetland preserve. Usually, they’ll be eagerly looking for food with their scaly heads aimed down and their all-white bodies horizontal to the water; however, given the size of this stork, they should easily stand out among their feathered wading peers.

If you don’t see them foraging in their natural habitat, visually investigate trees close by for colonies of roosting Wood Storks. While adults are mostly silent birds apart from the occasional hissing, croaking, or bill clappering, during breeding season in the wetlands it’s not uncommon to hear nestlings making loud begging “heh-heh” sounds that resemble a whining donkey. It’s quite the commotion, indeed!

 Behavior and Feeding

Using both sight and mostly touch, the Wood Stork is tactical when feeding. It wades slowly through shallow waters using its long, thick bill to feel for fish and other small prey underneath. These large waders prefer foraging in areas with low water levels because marine life is more abundantly concentrated in the pooling ponds that remain during low tides.

When on the hunt for food—arguably their most favorite thing to do—you’ll see this stork plodding calmly, fanning its wings, and moving its feet up and down in the water to find and startle prey. With its head down and beak partially open underwater, once it’s pinpointed and can feel its target below, the Wood Stork rapidly snaps its bill shut in just 25 milliseconds and swallows the unsuspecting snack whole. Given that a wood stork’s strike time is two times faster than its prey’s reaction to it, for them the task is a piece of fishy cake.

A Wood Stork’s diet consists mainly of fish—a lot of fish, tadpoles, large insects, worms, clams, crayfish, shrimp, snails, frogs, some seeds, mice, and even small alligators! Quite the menu, wouldn’t you say?

Nesting and Displays

The Wood Stork is the only stork that breeds in America and Florida is home to the largest nesting populace in the country. Recycling the same nest every season, they tend to roost and breed in large rookeries high up in Cypress swamps on horizontal branches, dead trees around flooded areas, and occasionally, mangroves. These storks nest in both spring and winter in Florida depending on the water levels and adequate availability of food. If supplies are low, some years these birds may choose to skip mating and not nest at all.

The nest itself takes around three days to build and is a decent size, about two feet in diameter and six to ten inches tall. Its rickety base consists of sticks that are lined inside with leaves, vines, twigs, and Spanish moss. Like many birds, when it comes to building the nest males bring in most of the supplies and females undertake the task of construction. Although the process is never quite complete as wood storks continue to add sticks and twigs even after their eggs have hatched.

Wood Stork Courting Rituals

Wood Storks are monogamous and typically mate for life. As with most animals, these Florida natives also partake in several courtship rituals when they’ve homed in on a potential partner. These displays include dancing, preening, beak clapping, followed by the oddly affectionate presentation of a stick from the male to the lucky female.

If and when the ‘stick of love’ is approved by the female Wood Stork, it charmingly becomes the first of many sticks chosen for the mating pair’s new home. And some people say romance is dead… ha!

Eggs, Parenting, and Maturation

Breeding wood storks usually lay one to five eggs in a clutch with an average of about three in a nest. In appearance, they’re flat-white in color and about the size of an extra-large chicken egg. If a female stork loses her first clutch early enough in the season, she may attempt to lay another if she has enough body reserves, but the second brood almost always contains less eggs than the initial clutch.

The incubation period lasts around a month and both parents share in the responsibilities of parenthood, including taking care of the nestlings once they’ve hatched and keeping the eggs warm before they do.

At around 7 to 8 weeks, baby Wood Storks have a full body of feathers and can take short flights but aren’t self-sufficient or free of their parents until about 9 to 10 weeks old. At 10 to 12 weeks, they leave the nesting colony and no longer communicate with mom and dad. Juvenile storks spend the next three to four years roving forested, swampy wetlands until their reproductive systems mature. The final step is to find a forever mate and become parents of their own. Ah, the circle of life!

Life Cycle

In the wild, the average lifespan of a Wood Stork is around 11 to 18 years old, with reports of the oldest one living in captivity to be just over 27. However, reaching adulthood for these young birds can prove to be quite difficult. Predators of chicks and eggs include hawks, vultures, crested caracaras, raccoons, skunks, grackles, and corvids. In some cases, although very rare, adults are preyed upon by American alligators.

There are also natural occurrences that limit the lives of these young birds. Because of competition among siblings for food and other stressful situations like inclement weather, often times only the largest and first-born baby stork survives. During periods of heavy downpours or flooding, young birds commonly die or are abandoned by their parents. If two nestlings survive from the same clutch in a season, it’s considered extremely successful.

Florida Wood Stork Photography at the Dan Power Gallery

For those of you who know me, and even for those who don’t, it’s no secret that I love wildlife photographyspecifically taking pictures of birds. I don’t know what it is that intrigues me most about them, but I constantly find myself reveling in their presence and admiring each species for what makes them their own. It’s not just an appreciation for their unique and differentiating appearances, oh no. Between their intellect, distinctive behaviors, and even their sounds, there’s so much more to birds than what meets the lens. With a great deal of patience and time, I’ve mastered the art of capturing it all so I can share it with you here.

Like what you see? All the images on this site can be purchased at the Dan Power Gallery online store in a variety of sizes, surfaces, and frame options.

To learn more about what you can personally do to help protect the Florida Everglades and all the life it hosts, visit the National Wildlife Federation for information.

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