|Wood stork in the Florida Everglades. Photo by J. J. Meyer|
The American wood stork, a bird scientists once feared would be extinct by the year 2000, has made such an impressive comeback that it's getting an official status upgrade 30 years after first being listed as an endangered species, the Obama administration said last week.
The tall, bald wading birds that nest in swamps and coastal marshes from Florida to the Carolinas are now a "threatened" species, a step up that indicates the wood stork is no longer considered at risk of extinction, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced during a visit to Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, home to a large wood stork colony on the Georgia coast.
Standing nearly 4 feet tall with a wingspan of about 5 feet, the wood stork is the only stork species that nests in the U.S. The birds' survival depends on ability to nest in wetlands with an abundance of fish and trees surrounded by water to protect eggs from predators.
The stork population was once anchored in Florida, but destruction of wetlands in the Everglades and elsewhere to make way for development decimated their numbers from an estimated 40,000 breeding adults in the 1930s to roughly 10,000 in the 1970s. Researchers say the species has made a remarkable resurgence by expanding its territory from southern Florida - where 70 percent of the population once lived - to establish nesting colonies in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. After nesting season, wood storks also can be found in parts of Alabama and Mississippi. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are as many as 9,000 breeding adults.