A pair of juvenile wood storks was recently spotted wading in a pond in Greeleyville. The wood stork is the only breeding stork native to North America. The bird can reach a height of 50 inches with a wingspan of 60 to 65 inches. The birds’ black flight feathers can be seen when they are in flight. Also known as wood Ibis or flinthead, adults have a dark gray beak that is long and slightly curved, while juveniles have dull yellow beaks. They aren’t very vocal but adults make a low croaking sound and juveniles make noise by rattling their beaks.
The species is distributed from South Carolina to southern South America. Although not considered true migrants, juveniles disperse northward after the breeding season, and adults move in response to food availability. In 1981, the first successful wood stork nests were documented in South Carolina.
Wood storks form nesting colonies that may contain up to 10,000 nests. According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), 2013 data recorded storks nested in the following counties: Charleston (6 colonies), Beaufort (5 colonies), Colleton (3 colonies), Georgetown (2 colonies), Horry (2 colonies), Hampton (1 colony), Berkeley (1 colony), and Jasper (1 colony).
Initially listed under the Endangered Species Act, the wood stork was reclassified as threatened in 2014. However, wood storks continue to face threats primarily from habitat degradation. According to the DNR, wood storks hunt by feeding for fish, crustaceans, and other prey. This feeding strategy requires high concentrations of prey in water that is shallow enough for storks to wade. In order for the storks to nest successfully, prey must be abundant and available throughout their nesting season. When adequate food is not available, adult wood storks will abandon their chicks and leave the area to find food. If you spot the long-legged wading bird, take a moment to enjoy their presence because their time in Williamsburg County is limited.