Georgia Wildlife Resources Division
2070 U.S. Hwy. 278, SE, Social Circle, GA 30025
A see-saw cycle of drought in early spring and heavy rains in late spring and the start of summer resulted in fewer wood stork nests and young in south Georgia this year.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources surveys of the endangered birds counted 1,903 nests across 19 counties in May. That’s down from 2,136 nests last year and 2,696 in 2010, the highest estimate since surveys by air began in the 1990s.
Recent follow-up checks did not help this year’s outlook. Some nesting colonies, or rookeries, have been abandoned, said Nongame Conservation Section biologist Tim Keyes, of DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.
Keyes estimated that average production will be well below one chick per nest. The federal recovery plan for wood storks targets an average of 1.5 chicks per nest.
“Of the colonies we marked, we had about 50 percent of nests abandoned,” Keyes said. “So it has not been a great year. … But there are still a lot of big chicks that should be fledging soon.”
Wood storks are tall, bald-headed wading birds that nest over water and depend on wetlands for food. Too little rain can dry wetlands and leave nests vulnerable to predators like raccoons. Yet too much rain disperses fish, making them harder for wood storks to catch. 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.
Wood storks, America’s only true stork, were listed as endangered when the number of breeding pairs in the Southeast slid to about 5,000 in the late 1970s, down from as many as 20,000 in the 1930s. The decline was blamed on wetland habitat loss and alteration due largely to ditch building in Florida.
About 12,000 pairs nest in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Georgia supports about 20 percent of the U.S. nesting population.
Annual nest fluctuations are normal. Georgia had an estimated 1,676 wood stork nests in 2009 and 2,292 in 2008. Considering the lack of rain in late winter and early spring, this year’s low numbers are no surprise, Keyes said. However, the long-term trend for wood storks in the state remains positive.
“Still a lot of wood storks will be produced in Georgia this year,” he said.
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 or renewing wildlife license plates featuring a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird. Also, contribute directly to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund. These programs support the agency and conservation of wildlife not legally fished for, hunted or collected.
Details: www.georgiawildlife.org/conservation or (478) 994-1438