Photo: Wood stork in water

Wood storks fish with an unusual but effective method: Opening their bills underwater, they wait for a fish to pass by, then snap!, like a mousetrap, the bill is closed, and the fish is eaten.

Photograph by Joel Sartore

Map

Map: Wood stork range

Wood Stork Range

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Fast Facts

Type:
Bird
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
11 to 18 years
Size:
Body, 33 to 45 in (85 to 115 cm); wingspan, 4.9 to 5.8 ft (1.5 to 1.8 m)
Weight:
4.5 to 5.8 lbs (2.1 to 2.6 kg)
Group name:
Colony or flock
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Wood stork compared with adult man

Wood storks are tall, white denizens of freshwater or brackish wetlands and swamps. They can be identified by their long legs, featherless heads, and prominent bills.

These waders feed on minnows in shallow water by using their bills to perform a rare and effective fishing technique. The stork opens its bill and sticks it into the water, then waits for the touch of an unfortunate fish that wanders too close. When it feels a fish, the stork can snap its bill shut in as little as 25 milliseconds—an incredibly quick reaction time matched by few other vertebrates.

The storks prefer to employ this technique in isolated pools created by tides or falling freshwater levels, where fish congregate en masse. In some areas, such as Florida, breeding begins with the dry season that produces these optimal fishing conditions.

Though wood storks eat small fish, they eat a lot of them. An average nesting pair, with two fledglings, may eat over 400 pounds (181 kilograms) of fish during a single breeding season.

Wood storks are social animals. They feed in flocks and nest in large rookeries—sometimes several pairs to a single tree. Females lay two to five eggs, which both sexes incubate for about one month. Young fledge about two months after hatching.

Wood storks breed in the southeastern United States and are the only stork to breed in the U.S. They also breed in Central and South America from Mexico to Argentina. Though U.S. populations are endangered—probably because of the loss of optimal feeding habitat—the South American stork populations are in better shape.

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