The wood stork, Mycteria americana, the only stork native to North America, has been a recurring visitor at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens since the early 1990s. Visits from this species increased both in numbers and frequency since then.
Wood storks are large, wading birds found throughout North and South America. This is the only species of stork that is native to North America and breeding rookeries can be found throughout Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Wood storks are listed as threatened in the U.S. mainly due to habitat loss.
In 1999, seven pairs of adults nested at the Zoo’s Plains of East Africa exhibit for the first time. Those birds did not produce offspring that year, but their persistence paid off. In 2000, twelve pairs of wood storks successfully nested at the same exhibit producing seventeen nestlings. This was the beginning of an encouraging relationship between the Zoo and the wild storks.
The number of nests and fledged (having feathers that are large enough for flight) chicks produced each year doubled until we hit our maximum nesting year in 2010 with 107 nests and 278 fledged chicks. After 2010, the nesting leveled off to a more stable set of numbers between 70 and 90 nests.
By 2003, the rookery came to the attention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and we were asked to be involved in the Wood Stork Recovery Plan through monitoring and banding of storks. This prompted several collaborations with the Savannah River Ecology Lab and Duval Audubon, including doctoral students from the University of Florida. The data collected at our Zoo and its analysis was presented at a Wood Stork conference in 2005.
The collaboration currently includes the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, the University of South Carolina Aiken, USFWS as well as other AZA accredited zoos.
In June of 2014, the wood stork was down listed to threatened from endangered under the Endangered Species Act due to conservation efforts.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has banded chicks and adults since 2003 and has continued to band storks when the rookery does well. This year we banded 30 chicks, bringing the total number of birds banded at the Zoo over the past 18 years to 413, of which 33 were banded as adults.
Any sightings of banded birds can and are reported to reportband.gov. These band sightings of banded storks help conservationists in many ways, such as identification, determining survival rates, and monitoring habitat usage. Throughout nesting season, keeping track of a bird’s band provides information on nesting fidelity, foraging habits, and how they utilize their surroundings. As this data is collected, researchers gain a better understanding on how adult storks raise their chicks and how fledglings learn to survive. The more we know about the wood stork, the more we can help save this species from extinction.