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Limpkin
limpkin
Limpkin, photographed at Green Cay Nature Center, Boynton Beach, Palm Beach County, in spring 2014.

You can't miss a limpkin, Aramus guarauna, once you've seen — or heard — one. There's just no other bird like it. And about the only place you'll see a limpkin, among the 50 states, is here Florida.

Limpkins live year-round in the Sunshine State, the northern most point of their range, which extends through Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America as far as Uraguay. They are common in South Florida's wetlands, where they feed mostly on apple snails (photo at right). If you don't see one, most likely you'll hear one. The limpkin has an extremely loud, plaintive cry that echoes through the surounding marshes.

Limpkins are large birds, with long necks, long, stout bills and long legs. It's dark brown with white streaks and spots, more prominent on the upper portions of the body. Limpkins can be as long as two-and-a-half feet with a wingspan of three-and-a-half feet, or more.

The limpkin's favorite food is the Apple snail. The limpkin's long bill, with a tweezer-like opening and slight curve, is adapted to remove the snail from its shell, sccording to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Also on their menu: freshwater mussels.

Limpkins will nest on the ground or high up in trees. The nest is a platform made of vegetation. Much of their behavior is unknown, however. Females lay as many as eight eggs per clutch; both parents incubate the eggs, but how long isn't known. Both probably feed their young. Limpkin chicks can clamber about their world soon after hatching, but how long it takes them to fledge is also unknown.

 

limpkin eating a snail

 
 
Photographs by David Sedore
 

Mating season varies according to location; in north Florida, it's February to May; in Central Florida, it's January to March and likely earlier in South Florida.

Limpkins are around throughout the year, but there is some evidence that some do migrate. Where they might go is another on a long list of unknowns. Occasionally large flocks of limpkins are seen, but drought and tight food supplies are likely the forces that bring them together.

Like too many of Florida's birds it was hunted to the brink of extinction but for food rather than for its feathers. Between 1966 and 1993, it's estimated that the limpkin population fell by an average of 9.1 percent per year as wetlands were drained for farms, homes and shopping centers. Florida still lists it as a bird of special concern because of habitat loss. The health of the apple snail population is another variable that factors into the limpkin's well-being.

The limpkin is the only member of the family Aramidae.

 
     
limpkin and chick limpkin chick limpkin and chick
 
Links for Limpkin Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology National Audubon Society National Geographic Society
 
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.