photo of wood stork
Wood Stork

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 in Florida.

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 years.

FWC Facts:
Like all North American terns, the least tern has long, pointed wings and a deeply forked tail. It is the smallest of Florida's terns.

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