BRUNSWICK — Georgia surveys of nesting wood storks documented a record year for the big birds with the bald heads. The estimate of more than 2,500 nests far surpasses the some 2,200 counted in 2008, the previous high since aerial nest surveys of the endangered species began in the 1990s.
"The success in Georgia may be linked to the early spring failure rate in the Florida rookeries due to bad weather," said wildlife biologist Tim Keyes of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section.
"When these colonies failed, many birds probably moved north and re-nested. We know this occurred by tracking two tagged birds that attempted to nest in the Everglades in early spring, and have since moved into two different Georgia rookeries — one on St. Simons Island and one near Camilla — with some birds moving north."
The state’s largest rookery, at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge near Eulonia, had 478 nests. Gilman rookery in St. Marys ranked second with an estimated 300 nests. There are 26 rookeries total across eight counties, from Glynn to Mitchell.
High water levels earlier in the season when the storks were establishing nests contributed to the record estimate. Productivity also will likely be higher than last year, when cold, wet weather hit before chicks were large enough to thermoregulate, or regulate their body temperature.
Keyes said this year’s weather has been more favorable and he is hoping for a large number of fledglings.
Georgians can help conserve wood storks and other rare and endangered animals not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as native plants and habitats, through buying wildlife license plates featuring a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird. They can also donate to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund state income tax checkoff or contribute to the fund online. These programs are vital to the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state general funds.