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Our Local Storybook Legend

North America's only native stork calls out wetlands home and reminds us that looks aren't everything

Adult wood storks and two chicks

Adult wood storks and two chicks

Mention storks to most Americans and the first thing that comes to mind is a big bird flying with a baby in a blanket. But Florida residents host the only stork species that breeds in the United States — the wood stork — and as such are more familiar with the real-life storybook legend. Conspicuous alongside our roadways, they do not catch our eye because they are remarkably active or elegant but rather because they are really big and pretty ugly, a term not used loosely. They are endearing in the same way that armadillos or hairless cats are.

The large white birds are over 3 feet tall with a wingspan often over 5 feet. At the age of 4, after their final molt as juveniles, their necks and heads are bald revealing black scaly skin. Their long, slightly down-curved bill changes from yellow to dark in the same aging process. In contrast, the neck and head of the juveniles are sparsely feathered giving them the scruffy look of a pubescent teen. Storks do not tuck their necks like herons; they soar with outstretched necks. Black feathers along the entire back edge of their wings along with their black tails paint a striking contrast against our blue skies. Depending on your angle you may see an effect of the black feathers that causes them to flash a stunning green sheen in the sunlight.