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Wood storks are again calling the South Carolina coast home

Sarah Bowman
Island Packet
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No more than 15 years ago, it would have made a bird watcher's week to see the seldom-seen wood stork.

Today, a daily siting is not unusual.

That development pleases watchers, environmental agencies and wildlife experts who are happy to see wood storks -- and in large numbers -- calling the South Carolina coast home.

As the population has grown in recent years, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has launched a new wood stork study -- part of a collaborative project throughout the Southeast -- to learn more about their movements, demography and longevity, according to a DNR release.

"These studies are important to help us track the movement of the birds," said Ken Scott, vice president of the Fripp Audubon club and a frequent birder. "We are trying to find out where the wood storks go and which ones come back for nesting."

DNR has banded more than 50 wood storks with easy to spot orange bands with black numbers. It is asking people who see the such storks to report the sightings as part of the project.

Scott said he has called in several sightings in the past month and knows others in the club have, as well.

Just last year, the birds were listed as a federally protected endangered species, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in December to change that status to "threatened."

The growing number of wood storks indicate a healthier environment, Scott said.

Pete Richards, president of the Fripp Audubon club, said the birds are a great success story, especially in Beaufort County along the barrier islands. While he doesn't have specific local numbers, he says wood stork numbers from the club's annual Christmas Bird Count have continued to rise.

The protected habitat here provides wood storks with perfect nesting and feeding grounds and have been a key factor in their growth.

"This data that the DNR is collecting is really important to see trends and any issues these birds are facing and then develop strategies to address them," Richards said. "It's important to ensure these birds can continue to live, survive and thrive."

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