wood stork

AP file photo

A wood stork snags a menhaden, which is easy because these birds have one of the fastest reaction times in the animal kingdom.

Here at Peace River Wildlife Center, our primary mission is to rehabilitate orphaned and injured native Florida wildlife. One of the ways we endeavor to keep wildlife safe is through education.

For example, we try to explain to the tortoises that if they continue to creep across major thoroughfares, they will continue to be run over by creeps in cars. However, we find that a slightly more successful approach is to educate people.

We instruct fishermen to avoid cutting snagged lines and leaving them dangling in foliage where birds may get entangled in them. We explain how a would-be rescuer should return a baby bird or bunny to its nest so the parents can continue to care for it. We plead with people to stop feeding wildlife, especially highly inappropriate things.

(If you have too many hot dogs on hand from your last BOGO expedition, one of my guilty pleasures is a turkey dog on a nice fresh white bun with a little ketchup and mustard. But please don’t feed hot dogs or bread to wild birds! It’s not good for us and can be deadly to wildlife.)

PRWC recently admitted a wood stork that had gotten entangled in some recklessly discarded fishing line. The monofilament was wrapped around the bird’s legs, neck and both wings, and had become deeply embedded into the area where the wings meet the body. The bird had been imprisoned by the line long enough to be dehydrated and thin, and was in shock when admitted.

I sometimes think poorly about fishermen for not gathering up line that has gotten tangled in the brush and brambles around their favorite fishing spots. But it turns out that fishermen were instrumental in rescuing this bird. Three young men, planning a quiet angling expedition, came upon this wood stork on the ground unable to move, and alerted PRWC. Note to self: Don’t paint all sportsmen with the broad brush of indifference.

One of these young men gently gathered up the bird and handed him to rescuer Donna Widmeyer for quick transport back to PRWC. Once there, rehabbers delicately dissected the line away from his body. The bird was treated with anti-inflammatory medication, fluids, and intravenous nutrition until he was strong enough to begin eating on his own. The lesions healed quickly, and a course of antibiotics helped keep infection at bay.

Wood storks are very interesting birds. We have many year-round residents in this area as well as a large migratory population that settles in for a few months each winter. North America’s only stork, it feeds by a method called tactolocation — it locates food by sense of touch. The stork stands in murky water with its beak ajar and waits for a fish to brush against it then snaps closed in 25 milliseconds. That is faster than the blink of a human eye and one of the fastest movements in the animal kingdom.

The wood stork breeds in colonies, preferring to be surrounded by others of its own species. Up to 25 nests can be found in a single tree. But they are very savvy creatures and will only breed if conditions are amenable. It takes more than 400 pounds of fish to feed a mating pair and their offspring up to fledging age, the time when the babies leave the nest.

The best time to locate that much fish easily is during the winter dry season, when water tables shrink and cause the fish to become more concentrated. Natural weather fluctuations and disruption and drainage of wetlands as a result of human population expansion have caused a scarcity of the wood stork’s food supplies and a serious decrease in their population. They’re now considered endangered.

This fascinating bird has suffered enough at the hands of man. We have seriously impeded their ability to breed. Storks don’t really deliver people’s babies, but if we aren’t careful, they won’t even be able to deliver their own.

Our wood stork patient is recovering well. Weak and exhausted on admission, he is getting stronger and faster every day. He has gotten to second base with one of our rehabbers (don’t ask!) and almost ate my toes the other day during a re-check. Did I mention how fast these guys are? 25 milliseconds to snap that beak closed. I may be limping, but poor Amy has a lot of ‘splaining to do when her significant other sees her bruise.

Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. They are open seven days a week year-round, including holidays. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.

Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. They are open seven days a week year-round, including holidays. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.

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