ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Wood storks are on the rebound.
The animal was on the brink of extinction, but that is not the case any longer. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering taking the wood stork off the endangered species list.
These black and white birds used to mainly call the Everglades and South Florida home. Now there are nests up into South Carolina.
At the bird rookery inside the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, there are many different kinds of birds, including several nesting wood storks.
Photographer John Hudson is like a kid in a candy story. He said a flying wood stork is beautiful to photograph.
Hudson has seen the wood stork population increase in St. Johns County.
"I noticed a pair for the first part of the 2000s," Hudson said. "And then there were two pairs, and then four pairs" in the Crescent Beach area.
John Brueggen is the Executive Director of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. He says the zoo reports the number of nesting wood storks to the federal government every year.
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is considering delisting the large bird because there are so many of them now.
They are tall, about four feet in height.
"A wood stork, to us, is kind of an ugly critter. He’s got no feathers on this head. They do look kind of dinosaur-like in our minds," Brueggen smiled.
Pointing to all the birds in the nesting trees, with the alligators swimming in the water below, Brueggen said, "This is our two-acre swamp at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm."
He said wood storks started nesting at the Alligator Farm in 1999 when this swamp was created by the zoo, and alligators were put into the man-made swamp.
Wood storks "want to nest above the alligators because there are no snakes, racoons, and other animals around because alligators keep them from climbing trees."
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the creation of areas – like the swamp at the Alligator Farm – and the increased protection of wetlands have helped the wood stork population take flight.
Brueggen said another success story of the Endangered Species Act is the American alligator.
"You know alligators are no longer on the endangered special list. They were in trouble win the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and now they’re everywhere."
Some people worry that it would be harmful to delist the wood stork.
However, Hudson embraces it.
"Oh I think it’s wonderful," he said. "Any time you see bird populations increasing, it’s a sign the environment is healing."