Home Nature What caused the decline in storks nesting at SW Florida sanctuary?

What caused the decline in storks nesting at SW Florida sanctuary?

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What caused the decline in storks nesting at SW Florida sanctuary?

Wood storks have filled the skies and cypress tree canopies of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary for millennia, breeding and feeding their young in one in all the most important bald cypress forests on the planet.

“A 1914 account from May of that 12 months says there have been over 100,000 wood storks ― and herons, egrets, (roseate) spoonbills and ibis as well ― but 100,000 wood storks, and it is a time limit where you may see the carrying capability of Southwest Florida,” said former sanctuary manager Jason Lauritsen.

But what was once the most important stork nesting site in North America has crumbled in recent times.

With much of the encircling areas having been developed in recent a long time, there simply will not be enough food on the landscape to support the birds and their offspring anymore.

“It takes 443 kilos of fish to feed one pair of storks and fledging young,” Lauritsen said. “You take a look at Corkscrew now and the thing seemingly on the chopping block is the wood stork nesting.”

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is an ecological gem outside the Naples area, and managers and volunteers there are celebrating 2024 because it marks the sanctuary’s seventieth 12 months.

The Sanctuary is managed by Audubon, and greater than 100,000 people traverse its famous cypress slough boardwalk every year.

And while North America’s only stork can still be present in the swamp, they don’t seem to be nesting there frequently.

Short-season wetlands are largely gone

Wood storks are massive wading birds with huge bills that need shallow wetland conditions so as to feed and grow their young.

With cotton-white feathers and dark grey bills and legs, wood storks can often be seen soaring high within the sky on warm spring days.

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Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is in the course of a cluster of preserves in south Florida, and it lends connectivity between places just like the 60,000-acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, or CREW to lands as far-off as Everglades National Park.

But much of the lands surrounding the sanctuary have been converted to golf course communities and gone are lots of the short-season wetlands mandatory for wading birds.

“It’s an actual international treasure,” said current sanctuary directory Keith Laakkonen. “(But) we have lost plenty of these shorter-period hydro-wetlands that these wood storks really rely on.”

So where are the storks nesting?

Totally on farm fields in areas like north Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

There, rice fields and other converted lands offer higher feeding conditions because it appears more fish can be found there than here within the historic Everglades system.

A wood stork feeds in the shallow wetlands of Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in the Naples area. Storks once nested here in the thousands but in recent years have mostly nested in areas like north Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Even habitat inside the sanctuary can turn foul for the birds.

“Hastily the landscape is not nearly as good for wood storks, so that they’ve moved into northern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina,” Laakkonen said.

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His concern is that the farm fields could also be converted to a different use in the longer term, and that what looks as if ideal feeding conditions in those areas could go away someday.

That might make Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary a very important backup for the species, he said.

“Loads of these places where they’re nesting should not natural areas and so they are near the coast,” Laakkonen said. “So, one hurricane could make an enormous difference is those areas.”

A wood stork rests in a cypress tree canopy at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, once home to the largest wood stork nesting colony in North America.

Lauritsen said the story of wood storks within the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary shows a broader impact to Southwest Florida’s ecology.

“It is a warning about what we have lost around the realm and what the core foraging habitat has turn into,” Lauritsen said.

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