The wood stork – with only 4,000 to 6,000 breeding pairs in the early 1980s – was named an endangered species at that time.
The news has gotten better more than three decades later; the bird has been removed from the endangered list, said Paul Koehler, director of the Silver Bluff Audubon Center in the Jackson area.
But the wood stork remains “threatened,” and that’s one reason why the center will host its “Storks and Corks” benefit on Saturday, Aug. 9, from 6 to 9 p.m. Visitors will have the opportunity to see the storks and enjoy a buffet dinner and wine. The proceeds will help the center’s operations.
“This is very gratifying,” Koehler said of the bird’s improved status. “The latest estimate is about 9,000 breeding pairs.”
Wood storks are the only stork species that nests in the U.S. Most of the stork population had been centered in Florida at one time. With the destruction of habitats there, the population in that state has fallen to about 50 percent. Most of the others can be found in the Carolinas and Georgia.
When Koehler began work at the Audubon Center 28 years ago, a system of ponds was built as a mitigation at the Savannah River Site through the work of local contractors. That created an alternate foraging area for the storks at the center.
“Ever since then, the storks have (been) coming to the Audubon Center to take advantage of the fish in these ponds,” Koehler said.
After meeting at the visitors’ center, guests will be transported to the ponds, where benches and chairs will be set up with canopies. The wood storks can be found at the facility area for about two months each year. The water level is lowered, which helps concentrate the fish and make it easier for the storks to catch them.
In late June, Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, announced the status upgrade at the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge off the Georgia coast.
“It’s a day for good news about an iconic bird from the Southeast that is doing a great job of recovering,” Jewell said, though she cautioned: “There’s still important work to do before we can propose to remove it from the list altogether.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.
“Storks and Corks”
• Event - The Silver Bluff Audubon Center will host the benefit event on Saturday, Aug. 9, from 6 to 9 p.m., beginning with a wood stork viewing, followed by a buffet dinner with wine.
• Proceeds - They will support the center’s operations and will help maintain or improve the wood stork’s latest status, which moved from “endangered” to “threatened.”
• Tickets - They’re $50 each. A few remain available, and reservations are required. To do so, call the center office at (803) 471-0291.
• Directions - From Aiken, take Silver Bluff Road toward Beech Island. Continue through U.S. Highway 278 and S.C. Highway 125, also known as Atomic Road. Continue to the Audubon Center at 4542 Silver Bluff Road in the Jackson area.