With the "dry season' having arrived, the birding at Everglades National Park is exceptional. But it comes with some restrictions, such as the annual closure of Paurotis Pond and its surrounding area to give nesting wood storks and other species some protection.
Everglades officials have instituted the closure of the pond and the area beyond the parking area adjacent to the pond in a continuing effort to protect the nesting storks, an endangered species, and all nesting birds in this area from human disturbance. Bird watching from the Paurotis Pond parking area off the main park road will remain open.
The officials say the closure will remain in effect through nesting season, which can vary in length depending on bird behavior. "If you're a birdwatcher, this is a particularly good time of year to watch these wonderful creatures in the nesting process," they say.
During the park's dry season, wading birds throughout the Everglades gather at nesting sites in preparation for nest building. They form nesting colonies that often contain hundreds and even thousands of nesting birds, according to a park release.
Paurotis Pond is one of the traditional nesting sites located in the heart of Everglades. Species nesting there include the Great Egret (Ardea alba), White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja), Tri-colored Heron (Egretta tricolor), Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), Black-Crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), and Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga).
"However," park officials say, "one nesting species in particular really stands out among the others: the federally endangered Wood Stork. In recent years, Paurotis Pond has been the nesting site for approximately 400 pairs of nesting storks."
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, these large, long-legged wading birds stand about 45 inches tall and boast a wingspan of 60 to 65 inches. "The plumage is white except for black primaries and secondaries and a short black tail," the agency's fact sheet on the species says. "The head and neck are largely unfeathered and dark gray in color. The bill is black, thick at the base, and slightly decurved. Immature birds have dingy gray feathers on their head and a yellowish bill."
Wood storks found themselves listed as endangered due to a dramatic drop in suitable habitat and resulting drop in food, the Fish and Wildlife Service says.
The southeast United States breeding population of the wood stork declined from an estimated 20,000 pairs in the 1930s to about 10,000 pairs by 1960, and to a low of approximately 5,000 pairs in the late 1970s. Nesting primarily occurred in the Everglades. The generally accepted explanation for the decline of the wood stork is the reduction in food base (primarly small fish) necessary to support breeding colonies. This reduction is attributed to loss of wetland habitat as well as to changes in water hydroperiods from draining wetlands and changing water regimes by constructing levees, canals, and floodgates to alter water flow in south Florida.
For additional information on viewing birds in Everglades, contact park officials at 305-242-7700.