Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach: Watch the wood storks nesting

Wood storks nesting in Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach
Wood storks nesting in Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. (Bonnie Gross)

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 10, 2019, 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 nesting in Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach
Wood storks nesting in Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. (Bonnie Gross)

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. )

Wood storks, anhingas and herons all nesting together in Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. (Bonnie Gross)
Wood storks, anhingas and herons nesting together in Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. (Bonnie Gross)

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!

Hatchling blue heron chicks at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. (Bonnie Gross)

 

Visiting Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach

Wakodahatchee Preserve, 13026 Jog Road, Delray Beach.

Open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Wakodahatchee website.

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.

Great egret on the boardwalk at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. (Bonnie Gross)
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5 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Lorena conaway

    Bonnie thank you so much for sharing your fabulous nature location experiences. I just came across your article while searching for birding locations specific to rookeries. I am so thrilled I did!
    I saw that you have been to the rookery at the gator farm in St Augustine and wondered if you have visited the one at Gatorland in Orlando. I live inWinter Haven abd was hoping for a comparison on them to determine if driving to st Augustine is worth the drive meaning is the rookery any larger or closer for Photographs with smaller lenses?
    Thank you so much!

    • Avatar
      Bonnie Gross

      Lorena,
      Thanks for visiting our site! I have not been to Gatorland, so I can’t compare.
      My experience at the St. Augustine rookery was that the birds were incredibly close. You might consider waiting until nesting season (when I visited) to make your trek. I believe that would be later in spring, but I bet if you call the facility, you can find out if the birds are nesting.
      Bonnie

  2. Avatar
    Kathleen Mysko

    Bonnie, I read your articles since moving to Boynton Beach from Chicago last summer!! Today I visited Wakodahatchee Wetlands, camera in hand, and was amazed at all the birds, and nature in one small area!!! Wood Storks, White Ibis, Blue Heron, Mama and baby gators, all cohabitating, nesting, feeding, and raising their young all around this lovely preserved area!

    • Avatar

      Thank you, Kathleen. I know! Isn’t it amazing? Nesting season this year has been over the top. But every time of year I go there, there is something special to see.

  3. Avatar

    Great to hear the storks are coming back in South Florida, I will definitely check both out of these places out.

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