Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Wood Stork - Mycteria americana
Sole representative of CICONIIDAE in NC
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General Comments The Wood Stork is probably the most significant wader in the state, because it is a Federally listed species and is one of largest of the state's waterbirds. (On 26 Jun 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the species from Endangered to Threatened status.) Of more importance is that only since 2004 has it been documented to breed in North Carolina. For 50 or more years, significant numbers have moved northward into the southern coastal areas after the breeding season has ended. Sometimes over 100 birds can be seen in the Sunset Beach (Brunswick) area, and birds were also regular as far inland as Robeson (at Warwick Mill Bay). Numbers of the species have been greatly increasing in the Carolinas in the past 25 years, in part owing to a northward shift in the breeding populations, and also to an increase in ponds and pools for feeding. Storks nest in inland swamps and man-made lakes/ponds, and they primarily feed in shallow freshwater pools, being very particular about water depth (often 6-12"). However, they also feed in shallow brackish and saltwater pools and channels. There are even now an increasing number of birds being found in winter, though it does not regularly overwinter in the state.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status T
U.S. Status T
State Rank S1B,S1N
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Summer resident and post-breeding visitor, greatly increasing; rare straggler in winter, though perhaps overwintering now in the Sunset Beach (Brunswick) area. Locally common only at its primary breeding sites (the privately-owned Lay's Lake in Columbus) and at Warwick Mill Bay (Robeson); and at its primary post-breeding site (Twin Lakes on the mainland portion of Sunset Beach). Elsewhere, rare (but increasing) to locally uncommon in the southeastern corner of the state (mainly Robeson, Columbus, and Brunswick); very rare to rare (but increasing) farther northward, including the Outer Banks. Primarily early Jun into Nov, but returns to breeding sites at least by Apr; a handful of records for Dec, Jan, and Feb, but rare in winter (though increasing). Since 2000, birds have been seen in the breeding season as far north as Lumberton (Robeson) and in Duplin. In fact, in 2012, two additional nesting colonies were found: about 20 nests just east of Tabor City (Columbus) and along the Black River along the Bladen/Pender line. Around 2017, the species began nesting at Warwick Mill Bay (Robeson), a site where non-breeding birds have been present for many previous years. Breeding was confirmed in Duplin, near Wallace along the Northeast Cape Fear River, in 2019 [Chat 84:8-9 link]. Remarkably, there were eight reports in the province in the winter 2019-20! The highest count for that winter was 5 at Alligator River NWR (Dare) on 7 Jan 2020. Peak counts: 368 (adults versus young not differentiated), at Lay's Lake, 31 May 2023; 225 (adults plus juveniles), at the breeding site in eastern Robeson, 27 May 2021; 190 breeding pairs, Lay's Lake, 2007; 161 nests, Twin Lakes, summer 2012; 130, Twin Lakes, 15 Aug 2010; 105, Twin Lakes/Sunset Beach, summer-fall 1996. Farther inland high counts: 58, Kinston (Lenoir), 2 Sep 2017; 57, Chocowinity (Beaufort), 3 Jul 2017; 52, near Williamston (Martin), 17 Sep 2022; 33, Buckhorn Reservoir (Wilson), 1 Oct 2022, with 32 there, 8-9 Sep 2022.
Piedmont Post-breeding visitor, greatly increasing. Formerly very rare to now locally rare, mainly from Jun to Sep, but scattered records from early May to mid-Oct. Just one known winter record: one in flight over Latta Plantation Preserve (Mecklenburg), on 5 Jan 2022. Generally at reservoirs and other large lakes. A report of 150-200, at Elkin, on 23 Jun 1955 [Chat 19:? link], with some specimens taken, is quite remarkable, assuming this is not a typographical error (such as Wood Duck?). High counts: 53 at Falls Lake, 3 Sep 2011; 49 in flight over Yates Mill County Park (Wake), 31 Aug 2023; 25 in flight over Cary (Wake), 31 Oct 2019; 17, Jordan Lake, 22 Sep 2019; 15, Jordan Lake, 24 Sep 2011.
Mountains Post-breeding visitor; very rare to now rare in the southern and central mountains, with about 15 records. The only northern mountain record is one in West Jefferson (Ashe) on 7 Sep 2021. Most records are from Jul and Sep. One at the Biltmore Estate (Buncombe), 1 Jun 2017; one at Rosman (Transylvania), 24 Oct 1995; three at Asheville, 2 Dec 1977; and one near the Little Tennessee River (Macon), 15 Jan 2020 were quite notable, especially as the last two are among the very few state winter reports. Peak counts: 7, Brevard, 9 Jul 1989; 3, Pisgah Fish Hatchery (Transylvania), 3 Aug 1994; 3, Asheville (see above).
Finding Tips The species can almost always be found around the margins of the two freshwater ponds at Twin Lakes, particularly from Jul into Sep. The eastern pond is better, and the storks are often found on flats or in shallow water at the back edge of the pond, away from the golfers. Birds may also be seen resting in trees around the ponds, or at times in the salt marshes and flats between the ponds and Sunset Beach. The species' rarity away from this area is shocking, despite seemingly good habitat at Orton Plantation and other sites in the Wilmington/Fort Fisher area. However, sightings in the state are increasing, and it can be found now around many lakeshores in summer and early fall, but these sightings are unpredictable and often short-lived.
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Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-13], LeGrand[2024-02-10], LeGrand[2023-10-20]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.