I couldn’t drive on by. I imagined the feathery mass, flopping about on the side of the road was a bag, maybe clothing, certainly trash of some sort. But that thought came from the timekeeper in my head reminding me I could not be late for a meeting. I knew if I stopped I wouldn’t make it, but the thing flailing in the ditch was helpless.
I turned my vehicle around and drove back to the injured animal, spooking a Northern Caracara (Caracara cheriway) that had targeted an easy meal. Caracaras are a rare and endangered species that typically feed on carrion, but won’t pass up an easy opportunity to eat a fresh meal. As much as I can accept that this is the proverbial “circle of life”, I had to step in a rescue the injured juvenile Wood Stork. (Mycteria americana). The lightly feathered head indicates this is a young bird.
It was apparent that it had recently been hit by a car. Its legs twisted and wings splayed out, the stork snapped its heavy beak in defense as I approached. I placed a sheet over the bird to settle it and carefully wrapped it up and placed it in my vehicle.
Wood Storks are an endangered species as well. They forage by sweeping their thick bill through the water and sensing food near their beak and gobbling it up. Fish, invertebrates and even baby alligators are prey of the stork. Their populations fluctuate depending on the water levels in Florida. Too much water and their prey can easily disperse. Too little water and their prey have no place to propagate. This dry season had been perfect for Wood Storks and other wading birds and the nesting season promised to be a good one. But with recent and unusually heavy winter rains, Wood Storks may struggle to feed themselves let alone fledglings. When this happens, storks may abandon nests altogether.
With this in mind, I was determined to do what I could to save this young bird. I drove the bird south to the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge where it was transferred to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center where it could be cared for.
I was late for my meeting and I’m fine with that.