Wood storks and other species of waterbirds have
been recorded nesting at the Chaires colony since at least the
mid-1970s when statewide surveys were initiated by the Florida Game
and Freshwater Fish Commission/Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission. Waterbird colonies, especially wood
stork colonies, often are named after some geographical locale or
feature. The Chaires colony derives its name from the nearby
community of Chaires. The colony is located in a forested
swamp in the Lake Lafayette/L. Kirk Edwards Conservation
Area. In addition to storks, anhingas, great egrets, and
great blue herons nest in the colony. Two other smaller
colonies (<150 nests) also occur in Leon County.
Depending upon the number of nesting birds, the
colony is spread over an area of about 4-7 acres. Storks
primarily nest in cypress, black gum and tupelo gum trees.
These trees range in height from 30 to 60 feet. The
understory (made up mostly of buttonbush and titi) is relatively
spare as the canopy cover of 90% restricts the amount of sunlight
penetrating the canopy. Interestingly, the site contains some
of the highest number of large wasp nests in any swamp we monitored
for wading birds in Florida. Average age of the cypress trees
used by the nesting storks is about 110 years old. Storks and
other waterbirds use only about 0.5% of the available nesting
area/trees in the Lake Lafayette basin.
Height of stork nests is about 35-55 feet.
Average number of nests per tree is about 4.5 (range 1-16
nests). Water depth beneath nests ranges from 10 to 39 inches
(average 16 inches). The number of breeding storks ranges
from 261 to 341 nests (average 304 nests). Chaires is the
largest colony in north Florida and ranks among the top 5 colonies
Storks begin nesting at Chaires in early to
mid-March, which varies among years due to water levels and spring
temperatures. Average hatch date of eggs is about May
21. Due to the variable beginning of nesting season, the last
stork fledglings may not leave their nests until mid-August.
Chaires consistently exhibits one of the highest fledging rates
among stork colonies in Florida and the southeast U.S., averaging
about 2 fledglings per nest.
While storks nest at the Chaires site, the adults
fly to other regions of the Lake Lafayette basin and off-site
wetlands to feed. Strong, graceful flyers, stork may fly 5-12
miles from the colony to locate food for their nestlings before
returning to relieve their mates and feed the nestlings. Prey
consists mostly of fish ranging in size from 2-5 inches, but they
will also take frogs, sirens, and the occasional small snake.
As the breeding season winds down in August, fewer
and fewer storks will return to the Chaires site to roost.
Eventually all of the fledglings and adults will abandon the site
and will not return until the following spring to initiate nesting
again. Based on information from banded storks from other
colonies, storks will move throughout Florida the southeast U.S.
during the winter months. While adult storks usually return
to the same colony on an annual basis, the fledglings spend the
next 4+ years moving about until they reach adult status.
Biologists suspect these matured storks from previous fledgling
classes return to their natal colonies to breed in future years,
which contributes to the fluctuating number of nests among