The 3,250-acre sanctuary near Jackson, S.C., includes a series of ponds built especially to cater to the hungry birds, which were added to the Endangered Species List in 1984.
The tall, bald-headed wading birds are America’s only true “stork.” They can only nest over water and depend on wetlands for food. The birds feed by running their opened beak through the water and snapping it shut when it touches prey, a technique known as tacto-location.
The species was listed as endangered when the number of breeding pairs in the Southeast slid to about 5,000 in the late 1970s. The decline was blamed on wetland habitat loss and alteration in Florida. Many wood storks now nest in Georgia, which has about 20 percent of the U.S. nesting population; or in nearby South Carolina.
In 2012, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed down-listing the storks to threatened, citing population data and restoration efforts that include the Silver Bluff project. The reclassification would not change protection or conservation measures.
The ponds at Silver Bluff were completed in the early 1980s and are stocked each year with small fish. In late summer, the impoundments are slowly drained to create the sort of habitat that lures in storks from a radius of more than 50 miles.
Tickets for the “Storks & Corks” are $40 and reservations can be made by calling (803) 471-0291. Proceeds benefit the center and its programs, which include educational programs and tours.