There’s a rare birding phenomenon that happens every spring at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach, Florida. The 50-acre preserve turns into a full-fledged nursery, chock full of nests, eggs and chicks anxious for their next meal.
The unique thing about the Wakodahatchee Wetlands is access and diversity. You don’t even need binoculars or a telephoto lens to see the nesting Wood Storks, Great Blue Herons, Anhingas, Great Egrets, Green Herons and more.
You can stand under a shaded gazebo on a boardwalk 12 feet from the action. This is not a zoo, but it sure feels like one.
On two visits to Wakodahatchee in the past week, Anhinga chicks wrapped their necks around their moms’ so tightly it was hard to tell one from the other. Great Blue Heron babies are simply comical with oversized eyes and feathers like dandelion fluff. But it was the dozens of newly hatched Wood Storks who stole the show.
Storks feed their young by squirting “pre-digested” fish directly into their mouths. And when these downy chicks are hungry, everybody hears about it. Disproportionately large yellow beaks fling wide open, and you can even see their tiny tongues as they cry.
Bawling Wood Stork chicks sound oddly like distressed human infants. When one starts up, they all join in. It’s loud, and just as things start to get obnoxious, the mother Stork reaches over with a long pink toe and strokes the baby. Ornithologists call this “comforting behavior” — pretty much what any good Mom would do.
Wood Storks breed for life, and at least one parent stands guard at all times to shade the chicks and sprinkle water over them if they need cooling off. They’ll also intervene if a Great Egret from a nearby nest happens to get too close.
Here’s a video that puts you in the middle of the action: