Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wood Storks and their unique way of feeding...

I could not believe my luck when I saw this small group of Wood Storks (Mycteria americana). They were feeding in the shallows along the driveway to the Pinckney Island NWR. It was my last day of vacation and I was leaving the park. I was glum and morose, and just like a kid dragging her feet, I was driving slowly with the windows open, watching the water and the grasses, trying to wring out every last bit of the island that I could. Leaving Pinckney is never fun, but suddenly, zing! yes!! happiness!!! -- Wood Storks were feeding about 50 feet away in the shallows...

Juvenile Wood Stork at Pinckney Island NWR, South Carolina
A juvenile Wood Stork feeding in the shallows at Pinckney Island NWR in South Carolina.

I pulled the car over and watched the small flock through the binocs. The birds were feeding, and I could see them stirring the water with their feet. They had their bills open in the water, waiting for a fish or crab to make contact. After a while, I got out of the car, crossed over and sat down behind the grasses. I remained still and quiet, and they went about their business of fishing and eating...

...a juvenile Wood Stork fishes with his bill open, waiting for a fish or crab to make contact.

Woods Storks have a unique way of catching their prey. They like to forage in shallow water with large concentrations of fish or crabs where they hold their bills open in the water. When a fish or crab makes contact with the bill, it triggers a snap-shut reflex, and the Wood Stork nabs its dinner without ever having to see into the murky water. Because Wood Storks are tactile feeders and do not have to see their prey to catch it, their method of feeding is called "grope-feeding" or "tacto-location." Click here for a detailed explanation of this feeding method and other information on Wood Storks.

In the following video, you can see the Wood Stork stirring the water with its foot, then scooping up a little crab. At the end of the video, I put some of the action in slow motion to better see the Wood Stork eating a little crab...



A Wood Stork uses "foot stirring" to drum up some lunch. 

The Wood Stork is endangered in the United States, so I was especially happy to have been in the right place at the right time to see this small flock of Wood Storks...even if it was my last day of vacation.

Wood Storks are doing well in Georgia and South Carolina, and the government is thinking about changing their status from endangered to threatened. Click here for an NPR article and broadcast of the story.

Wood Storks are large birds. This guy was over three feet tall. I loved watching him move slowly through the water.

An adult and a juvenile Wood Stork walk single file. The adult is on the left. Check out that bald, scaly, woody looking head. On the right is the juvenile Wood Stork, still fresh and new and covered in feathers. 

In part two of this series I'll focus on the adult Wood Stork's face, so you can see how different a juvenile and an adult look. I took these photos on June 19, 2012.

32 comments:

Laurence Butler said...

Sweet stuff Kelly! Wood Storks are in the group of birds classified as 'crazy cool'.

I read somewhere that the Wood Stork snap is among the fastest recorded reflexes in the animal kingdom too.

They don't age gracefully, but they don't get less awesome either.

Great post!

Elaine said...

These are wonderful, Kelly! What a treat to see these. I think you have some kind of secret bird magnet. Market it and you will make your fortune!

Elaine said...

These are wonderful, Kelly! What a treat to see these. I think you have some kind of secret bird magnet. Market it and you will make your fortune!

Betsy Adams said...

Hi Kelly, Great photos and info about the Wood Stork... Thanks so much.

Hope you are doing well.
Hugs,
Betsy

Carole M. said...

I've never seen these before online, fabulous photographs and what a treat at the end of your visit Kelly!

Gillian Olson said...

Amazing pictures and the video is fascinating, love that fishing technique.

holdingmoments said...

Great behavioral captures Kelly.

Jenny said...

Lovely photos of these amazing birds as well as great information. Thanks Kelly. Look forward to the Part 2!

birdworthy said...

How incredible! I don't have anything else to say, simply blown away by the images.

Banjo52 said...

More great photos, education, and story-telling at the College of Kelly. I had never heard of that method of feeding. Thanks!

TexWisGirl said...

i've had the pleasure of seeing an adult wood stork here at our place in NE Tx one winter for a few days. he was fascinating! the juvie actually looks rather cute with his fuzzy head. like how they stir the water with their foot!

Janice K said...

Wonderful! I enjoyed the video. The way their legs work is pretty neat too...

Lois Evensen said...

Fabulous post and wonderful video. Wow.

Montanagirl said...

Wonderful shots of the Storks, Kelly! They sure have heavy bills.

Ana Mínguez Corella said...

Wonderful bird and great pictures,, Cheers!!!.

Kathy A. Johnson said...

We sometimes see these beautiful birds in the ponds in our subdivision. I think their feathers are just gorgeous.

eileeninmd said...

Kelly, love the cool shots of the Wood Stork. They are cool looking birds, they have neat looking bill!

Larry said...

This is a beautiful series on the Wood Stork Kelly! A bird I have never seen. I really enjoyed the video. Seeing the birds behavior in action is such a learning treat. Thanks for the slo-mo footage at the end too!

Katherine Edison said...

We're lucky to have Wood Storks here in the winter and I love seeing them feed and fly! Beautiful birds.

Appalachian Lady said...

Great to learn something new about the wood stork. I hope to see some when I visit my sister next week in Florida. Maybe I can impress her with my knowledge!

Kathie Brown said...

Wonderful shots! What a great surprise and what a way to end the day!

Merri said...

nice! they're so elegant.
- The Equestrian Vagabond

Julie G. said...

Kelly, fantastic behavior photographs and video! I've always found the Wood Stork method of feeding fascinating. So glad you were able to see these very cool birds before your departure. Excellent post, superb photographs!

Sara-Bellum said...

I loved the video! I've seen them do that before with their feet but never knew why.

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

What great photos of a really impressive bird.

All the best.
Guy

Cindy said...

Amazing birds!! Loved the video.

Cheryl Gebhart said...

You really got some wonderful shots of the wood storks. How lucky that you saw them.

Hilke Breder said...

Stirring up the soup to bring the good stuff up... Great post, Kelly!

Chris said...

Wow that's a huge bird compared to the wren published in the previous message ;-) Superb Kelly and I loved the video ;-)

Flat Creek Farm said...

What a gorgeous bird! And I love the "stir" action. Nice to find such a lovely nature blog! -Tammy

E said...

Wonderful, Kelly, thanks for so much beauty and information about nature.
Great pics. Abrazos

Stacy Walker said...

Hi Kelly and thanks for the beautiful pictures and video of the wood stork. I'm a brand new birder in South Carolina in the Charleston area and hope to one day get some pictures as nice as these!