** Archived Article - please check for current information. **
October 22, 2014Record high number of stork nests in SC during 2014
Overall, 2014 was an excellent year for wood storks (Mycteria americana) nesting in South Carolina. “A record number of wood stork nests were counted during annual surveys conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and chick survival was very high,” said Christy Hand, DNR Wildlife Biologist. “A total of 2,501 stork nests were counted statewide. The previous record was 2,057 stork nests in 2004.”
DNR biologists and volunteers monitor nesting success in several index colonies. An average of 2.2 chicks fledged (survived until they were old enough to fly) per nest in the colonies that were monitored. The federal recovery goal for wood storks is an average of 1.5 fledglings per nest. During 2014, storks nested in the following counties: Beaufort (9 colonies), Charleston (5 colonies), Colleton (3 colonies), Georgetown (2 colonies), Bamberg (1 colony), Hampton (1 colony), Horry (1 colony), and Jasper (1 colony).
Historically, wood storks used South Carolina as a feeding area during the summer and fall after dispersing from nesting colonies in Florida and Georgia. After much of their habitat in southern Florida was altered and lost, wood storks gradually began to expand their nesting range into South Carolina and more recently into North Carolina. In 1981, the first successfully nesting wood storks were documented in South Carolina (11 nests). From 1994 and 2013, wood storks built between 712 and 2,057 nests in South Carolina each year. Southern Florida remains very important for storks during the winter and continues to support a portion of the population during the nesting season.
During 2014, the US Fish & Wildlife Service announced their decision to down-list the federal status of the wood stork from “endangered” to “threatened” because several recovery criteria have been met. As a federally threatened species, the wood stork is still protected under the Endangered Species Act. Details about the reclassification can be found in an online news release from the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
Storks typically nest in trees growing in water or on small islands. Alligators living below the stork nests deter raccoons and other mammals from preying upon the stork eggs and chicks. In addition to requiring water in the colonies for protection from raccoons, rain during the months leading up to the nesting season increases the amount of fish and other food that is available to nesting storks. Hand explains that, "unlike herons and egrets, which hunt visually, wood storks are tactile feeders, which means that they hunt by feeling for fish, crustaceans, and other prey." In order for the storks to nest successfully, prey must be abundant and available throughout their nesting season.
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