August 7, 2008

Stork Makes Rare Visit To Louisiana

The jabiru, a stork common to areas of South America, was spotted much farther north in Louisiana, according to an employee of the state's Department of Wildlife Fisheries.

Michael Seymour said he saw the jabiru with its blocky, slightly upturned black beak among a flock of wood storks, egrets and ibis.

There have been less than a dozen sightings of the bird in the U.S. This is the first recorded sighting in Louisiana, according to Greg Butcherm director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society.

"We were both speechless. The only thing we did was high-five each other," Seymour, an ornithologist with the department's Louisiana Natural Heritage Program, said Wednesday. "We both knew what it was. There's nothing else that looks like that."

The jabiru is widespread in South America but rare in Mexico and Central America, which are at the northern end of its range, Butcher said.

He said jabiru nest in the same areas as wood storks, and wander with them to forage after their nesting seasons are over. This one was on private land in Iberville Parish, near Maringouin and the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area and about 100 miles from New Orleans.

Very few jabirus can currently be found in U.S. collections. Lee Schoen, curator of birds at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, said he believes they all are at the Dallas World Aquarium.

Butcher said there have been about eight sightings in Texas and one in Oklahoma.

Seymour said he has fielded dozens of queries about the stork from Louisiana birders, and three from Florida and Oklahoma, but he hasn't seen it again.

"I think a lot of people think of jabirus as being one-day wonders, so people don't want to invest much time and money in searching for them," he said.

Image Courtesy Jorge Stolfi (Wikipedia)