Spring has always meant baby chicks and in South Florida, those chicks can be gawky awkward baby wood storks.
There is no better place to see them up close, with all their squawky sounds and fishy smells than Wakodahatchee Wetlands, a manmade preserve in Delray Beach that is my wonderful local birding boardwalk. I visited March 18, 2018, to admire the stork colony.
At Wakodahatchee, dozens of nesting wood stork pairs are visible from the boardwalk. One tree island that appears to be the hot neighborhood for young stork families is no more than 15 feet from the boardwalk and a shaded shelter with a bench. It attracts a steady crowd and many photographers with long lenses.
These storks are so close you can hear them (one sound they make is a tiger-like growl) and smell them as well as watch them preen, flutter, bicker and mate.
A few years ago, storks were rare visitors at Wakodahatchee. On my visit, I counted dozens of visible nesting pairs, and past accounts suggest there are 50 to 60 nesting pairs on the property.
Wood storks were once endangered species, but have thrived in Florida in the last decades. They were reclassified in 2014 as threatened, not endangered.
Storks feed on fish, frogs, crayfish and other aquatic animals by “grope-feeding” – when their bills touch or sense the prey, they snap their long beaks and eat them, sight unseen. (Storks can snap their beaks shut 13 times faster than you can blink your eye. )
Because of their feeding style, storks require specific water levels and a rich aquatic life to thrive. And they have found that, apparently, as Wakodahatchee.
You’ll see a variety of other birds at Wakodahatchee – all the Florida herons and egrets, moorhen, coots, plus orange-legged whistling ducks. We also spotted alligators and marsh rabbits.
We also saw baby great blue herons in their nests (and for babies, they’re huge) as well as baby cormorants and anhinga.
Once hatched, baby storks stick around for 10 to 12 weeks, becoming fully feathered around seven or eight weeks. We look forward to an entire season of stork watching!
Visiting Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach
Wakodahatchee Preserve, 13026 Jog Road, Delray Beach.
Open daily from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.
The preserve is a man-made wetlands designed to treat highly treated water from a county water treatment plant, filtering the water as it seeps into the underground aquifer that is essential to South Florida’s water supply.
The boardwalk is .75 miles long and is handicapped accessible.
Admission is free.
There is restroom.
The large parking lot fills up on winter weekends, when 500 to 1,000 people may visit over the course of a day, and you may have to wait for a space. There is good turnover among visitors. We were fifth or sixth in a line of cars on a sunny Sunday and we waited only 15 or 20 minutes for a space.
If you visit Wakodahatchee, you are five minutes from another wonderful boardwalk through a man-made wetland. Green Cay is longer and attracts different varieties of birds. The combo makes a great afternoon. Read more about it in it this article on Green Cay and Wakodahatchee from Florida Rambler.
More things to do near Delray Beach:
- A guide to things to do in Delray Beach
- Only minutes away: Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge for birding, hiking, kayaking and beautiful cypress-swamp boardwalk
- A great beach at MacArthur State Park
- Kayak to Munyon Island in MacArthur State Park
- Howley’s, an authentic 1950s diner in West Palm Beach
- Lake Trail, a bike trail on the elite island of Palm Beach
- Palm Beach: Full of history and manicured beauty
- Peanut Island for snorkeling and camping
- Kennedy Bunker on Peanut Island
- Hiking and bike trails at Grassy Waters Preserve, West Palm Beach