Rare Wood Storks on view July 17 at wildlife area

Deidre Cruse, Government Reporter

The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers will kick off   “Wood Stork Week” from 7 a.m. to noon Saturday (July 17) at the South Farm Area of the Sherburne Wildlife Management in Iberville Parish, parish Environmental Manager John J. Clark announced.

The Wood Stork is the only stork native to North America, and there are only a few thousand of them left.

“This is a extraordinary opportunity to see these giant and rare birds, along with 100s of other wetland bird species up close in a flourishing natural habitat,” Clark said.

The Sherburne WMA was recently selected as a relocation site for the wetland birds rehabilitated from the DeepWater Horizon  Gulf Oil Spill due to its quality habitat. 

The event is free, but guests ages 16 to 60 are required to have valid hunting or fishing licenses, and a “Louisiana Wildlife Stamp” to access the wildlife management area. 

Wildlife and Fisheries will have a complimentary shuttle available to take guests in and out of management area; otherwise guests can walk or ride bikes.  There will also be shade tents for breaks. 

Clark advised visitors to take binoculars, camera, sun hat, sunscreen, water and snacks.

Potentially, dozens of Wood Storks and other wading and shore birds can be viewed in the area as they are drawn to feed in the South Farm's water management units, Clark said, adding that 90  Wood Storks were sighted there as recently as a week ago.

The South Farm includes a number of large moist soil impoundments. These are flooded in the fall to provide habitat for water birds with emphasis on waterfowl.

There are good numbers of small fish and crawfish in these impoundments. By late spring, the fish have reach good sized and there a more than enough crawfish to support a public crawfish fishery. The impoundments are drained in the mid-summer to enhance growth of wetland plants for the following year. This takes a period of almost a month, for two reasons, the size of the impoundments and the management strategy to provide mud flats and very shallow water with concentrated prey for birds like shorebirds (sandpipers) and wading birds (egrets, herons, spoonbills, storks, and ibises).

The Wood Stork is the only stork native to North America. These large wading birds (two to four feet tall with 66-inch wingspan) are an indicator of condition of our nation's wetlands and as the wetlands disappear so are the Wood Storks. Even though many of the birds are from Mexico, the water management units such as the South Farm are becoming more critical to the survival, Clark said.

“With only a few thousand of these birds left, this is a great opportunity for bird watchers, photographers and anyone who enjoys wildlife to see quite possibly the largest concentration of these birds anywhere,” he said. “

Often alligators, whitetail deer and many other species of birds may be observed as well. Individuals and professionals will be on hand to discuss the management of the area, identification of animals, and to the discuss the Wood Stork.  It is better to arrive early for the greatest opportunity to see the Wood Storks.”

To get to South Farm, visitors should take I-10 to the Ramah exit (exit 135), go north and take the first road to the left, turn right by the market on Mimms Street, cross the bridge and turn right on the lower Atchafalaya Levee road (a gravel road), go approximately 1.5 miles or until you see the "South Farm" sign, cross over the levee and enter the parking lot, where additional information will be available.

Hunting and fishing licenses  and Wild Louisiana stamps are available over the internet at by phone at 1-888-765-2602. 

Further information is available from the USACE Project Office at 337-585-0853, Wildlife and Fisheries (337) 948-0255, or Clark (225) 266-2274.