New Study Zeroes in on Birds' Breeding; Findings Might Help Improve Protection for Endangered Species in Three States

By Jackson, Gordon | The Florida Times Union, May 26, 2004 | Go to article overview

New Study Zeroes in on Birds' Breeding; Findings Might Help Improve Protection for Endangered Species in Three States


Jackson, Gordon, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Gordon Jackson, The Times-Union

KINGS BAY NAVAL SUBMARINE BASE -- Thirty years ago, nesting wood storks were a rarity in Georgia and South Carolina. Nowadays, researchers estimate as many as 50 percent of the endangered birds nest in the two states.

But until this year, research has never been conducted in the two states to determine the breeding success of wood storks.

Information from a new study could help determine how to better protect the birds and, in the future, when to remove wood storks the endangered species list.

One of the focal points for the study, funded by a grant by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, where as many as 80 nesting couples are raising hatchlings on a small island surrounded by a retention pond.

The Kings Bay site is described as a "significant population" of the birds, said Ron Wilkinson, a biologist at the Navy base. An estimated 6,000 to 8,000 nesting pairs of wood storks live in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Wilkinson said the island on base probably attracted the birds because predators such as raccoons and snakes are driven away by alligators living in the water surrounding the island. And the nesting site is located in a secure area of the base, with little human traffic that could disturb the animals.

"It's a pretty remote area," Wilkinson said. "Most people wouldn't have access here."

Two University of Georgia researchers with the Savannah River Ecology Lab in Aiken, S.C., have been making return visits to the island on base about once every two weeks since the beginning of April to gauge the success of nesting couples.

Research coordinator Larry Bryan described the base as "like being in a protected area," such as a designated wilderness, because of the environmental programs on base.

The Kings Bay colony contains as many as four nests in one tree on the unnamed island. While one parent, as tall as 3 1/2 feet with a wingspan of 5 1/2 feet, protects the nest, the other parent flies as far as 30 miles searching for food to feed its young.

Each nest is as large as 3 feet across and contains an average of three eggs, Bryan said.

The main diet of the birds is about 90 percent fish, with the remainder being mostly shrimp, crawfish and other crustaceans, researchers said. …

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