Physical characteristics: Wood storks have crusty gray skin on their bare heads and necks. Their body feathers are white, and they have black flight feathers. They are between 33 and 40 inches (83 and 102 centimeters) long from beak to tail. Their wings stretch 59 inches (150 centimeters) from tip to tip, and they weigh between 4.4 and 6.6 pounds (2 and 3 kilograms).
Wood storks hunt by touch, catching fast-moving fish without seeing them. Scientists have found that when a fish touches the bill of a wood stork, it can react in 0.025 seconds to snatch it, the fastest reaction time of any known vertebrate, animal with a backbone. (Lynn M. Stone/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
Geographic range: Wood storks are found in southeastern United States and southward through the tropical areas of Mexico, Central America, and South America. They are the only storks that live in North America.
Habitat: Wood storks live in wetlands with shallow water. They often breed among the bald cypress trees, conifer trees with needles that grow in wetlands.
Diet: A wood stork eats mostly fish, and it catches them without having to see them. It sweeps its open bill through shallow water. The instant it feels a fish, frog, crayfish, or other small prey, it snaps its bill shut to capture the prey.
Behavior and reproduction: Many wood storks raise their young during the dry season. As the pools of water shrink, the creatures living in them have to swim closer together. That makes it easier for the storks to find food.
When the time is right, the male stork chooses a nest site, usually high up in a bald cypress tree. Then the male collects sticks while the female waits at the nest site. After the nest is built, the female usually lays three eggs. Both males and females incubate, sit on and warm, the eggs. Eggs usually hatch after twenty-eight to thirty-two days. The hungry chicks eat more than half their weight in food every day. They grow quickly and are ready to leave the nest in about two months.
Wood storks and people: When wood storks nest, it is a sign that wetlands are healthy. In folklore, storks are responsible for the delivery of babies.
Conservation status: Wood storks are not considered endangered in most places, but they are on the endangered species list in the United States because of habitat loss. ■
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