Skip to content

Wail of the Limpkin

Floridians know their cries well. And if you live near water, it’s always a lovely wake-up call, this startling wail. Their wail is the sound of the Everglades and of Florida.

The Limpkin (also called carrao, courlan, and crying bird) is found primarily in wetland habitats, from Florida to northern Argentina. While doing well in areas south of here, this bird is considered SCC — a species of conservation concern — in Florida. This, due to the severe decrease of its primary diet — more on that later — but there is hope for these sweet birds. As with other natural wanderers, I’m seeing them feeding in more creative areas, including canal banks. They’re adapting to their habitat loss, hopefully. Here’s to restoring more of their land, and continuing to protect it for future generations.

Limpkin, South Florida

A Limpkin rests precariously close in the alligator-infested waters of Grassy Waters Preserve

Limpkins inhabit freshwater marshes and swamps, as well as mangroves. The bird averages 25–29 inches in length, and boasts a wingspan of 40–42 inches. Primarily nocturnal, Limpkins are strong flyers and swimmers, and with their long toes, they are able to stand on floating vegetation — which also makes them easy prey for alligators. They wade and forage in the shallow waters, seldom submerging themselves more than halfway. Look for them probing for food in the clear waters, amid the vegetation.

These birds feed primarily on molluscs, and insects, frogs, lizards, and worms when needed. But their diet is dominated by apple snails, which the bird’s bill is perfectly adapted to, since it acts like tweezers. The best way to find Limpkins is to find apple snails — rarely broken in the quick feeding process, these giant snails are a sight unto themselves. Apple snails include species that are the largest living freshwater snails on planet Earth. They’re big.

The survival of the Limpkin depends on these snails — everything is intertwined in Nature. Disturb one facet, a chain reaction quickly begins, and all is upset.

Apple Snails, Riverbend Park

Limpkin Leftovers: Apple Snails in Riverbend Park. Or, as I call them: Giant Alice-in-Wonderland Snails

Fun Facts:

    • The Limpkin’s name is derived from a perceived limp when it walks.
    • These birds — Aramus guarauna — are the only surviving species in the genus Aramus and the family Aramidae.
    • Recent DNA studies have validated a close relationship with cranes, although the Limpkin is often confused with the immature American White Ibis.
    • The Limpkin’s cry is infamous: It has been used for jungle sound effects in the Tarzan films, and for the hippogriff  in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
    • Want to hear the echoing cry of a Limpkin, so very common to our area? Click here!
Limpkin, South Florida

Limpkin ready for his close-up in the protected wetlands

Part of:

65 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beautiful sweet bird. And those snail-shells! Look like tubas!

    December 12, 2012
    • Aren’t they sweet-looking — for such a strong voice?

      And you’ll appreciate this little story: I love these snails… I always grab the perfect leftovers. Once, I had a few sitting, ready to be cleaned by the sink. Before my sweet girl passed, there were 3 kitties here. One of my guys (they’re all rescues), bless his little heart, has been labeled “touched” by every vet I’ve been to, lol. So this big dummy decides to lick them before I can get to them, lightning-fast, like. Usually animals know NOT to lick/drink bacteria-infested waters/items. He managed to spread ecoli to all 3 kitties. So fun! So fun! Poor Zig.

      December 12, 2012
  2. jimbey23 #

    I love our local Limpkins – and that plaintive wail they make adds such wonderful atmosphere to our adventures in gator land! They are considered endangered in Florida, because of the big draw down in the snail population — but there may be some good news on that front. I am starting to see more Limpkins feeding away from normal snail areas. Look for them on canal banks hunting down lizards and such.
    The crane family sure is diverse! Recent DNA testing has confirmed that the family also includes the ubiquitous Vultures (Black & Turkey).

    December 12, 2012
    • Arrrrghhh… I didn’t realize they were endangered. I KNEW it would be because of the snails. I recall them playing with that status, YEARS ago. @&*#@**. Makes me sad, sad, sad. But you’re right — there is great reason for hope. I too see them in many more areas I previously didn’t. I’m updating the post now, THANK YOU!!!

      Their call really does make the Everglades the Everglades…

      December 12, 2012
      • jimbey23 #

        They are only considered SCC (of special concern) in the US (mainly Florida). They are widespread and doing quite well in points south of here.

        December 12, 2012
      • That’s good news. Bad news: Florida’s not managing conserving the land… That’s why they’re considered SCC. We need more conservation efforts and less development power.

        December 12, 2012
    • Thanks again for that heads-up and info… I lost track of this lovely’s status a few years ago, for shame. They tend to go back-and-forth and love the SCC status. Here’s to protecting more of their natural land, so we don’t have to see them in canals so much.

      December 12, 2012
      • jimbey23 #

        You know what the biggest endangered species is? Humans that CARE! How often have you gone out to the Owahee or the other NENA natural surface wetland trails, and have seen no other hikers? The Apoxee Wilderness is 15 minutes from the West Palm waterfront, and is chock-full of sights worthy of the Everglades National Park – so where are the tourists and the tree-huggers? If the three MILLION residents that live within an hours drive don’t care, the strip malls and gated communities are going to continue gobbling up the land.
        So thank goodness for you, FeyGirl!

        December 12, 2012
      • EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY!!! I’m always stunned. STUNNED! That the fact that I’m usually completely alone. When I do see someone — NEVER a hiker, always a biker — I’m thrilled. There are a lot of talkers. LOTS. That Preserve is a critical component of the Everglades watershed — thank goodness it was protected. And it’s…right…there…. So much.

        I soooo want to use that quote for another post, as an intro to all the gators I photographed. There will be several posts. 🙂 It’s just perfect! What’s your first name, so I can attribute it?

        That’s really why I started this… There are so many transplants in our area, which is nice. But the connection to the land is LOST. It breaks my heart to see houses and strip malls pop up in previously first-growth lands, and then…nothing. Nary a Native plant, after all that wonder destroyed. And this is such unique land. So highly sensitive, nothing else like it in the entire WORLD. We need the connection. People need to begin to open their eyes a bit more. Baby steps. No need for our kinds of hikes, eh?

        December 12, 2012
      • jimbey23 #

        I am honored, m’lady! I am Jim Collinge – a complete (but enthusiastic) amateur. Back in the day, I sold a couple thousand used and refurbished film SLR cameras on eBay under the name jimbey. On the trail, I am Smokestack. I’ve been taking (poorly composed) nature photos for 40 years now. Anytime you (or anyone else in this SuperBlog) wanna swap lies, feel free to email me at j_collinge@yahoo.com.
        Have you ever approached the Sun Sentinel and/or the PB Post with the idea of a weekly column about Florida fauna?

        December 12, 2012
      • Lovely to meet you! Wow, a couple THOUSAND… That’s amazing.

        I will definitely be using some of what you said, in one of my future posts; I just have to get it together and decide which, now. 🙂

        Smokestack. I love it. I don’t have a trail nickname…. Spaz? I need to get out to the more remote areas again, I miss it. I’ll be solo again, which can be intimidating with my crapalistic sense of direction.

        That’s a wonderful idea!! I have so many plans for these images, and I’ve submitted them to a few places — but honestly, locally is the best, isn’t it? To spur interest in these amazing places, which will in turn protect them? I’m doing it. Thanks so much for the suggestion…. Now fingers crossed someone will agree with us and publish, heh!

        December 12, 2012
      • jimbey23 #

        It is kind of ironic – our almost totally ignored “Gee Whiz” areas here in Palm Beach County actually enjoy a high level of support from the populace. Most of us are actually in favor of all the preservation purchases – but few of us reap the entertainment and educational benefits of same. Millions have been (over) paid, and county commissioners have gone to jail, thanks to the preserve purchases. And ALL of us have seen the elegant wading birds in our neighborhoods. I think a weekly column from FeyGirl called “Take a walk on the Wild Side” would be a hit.

        December 12, 2012
      • You hit the nail on the head… On so many points.

        HAHAHAH! Do you know…. I kid you not…. My aunt had an idea for that EXACT SAME TITLE, a few months back. WOW. That’s downright uncanny. Well, now I have to pursue it. (It helps that “Where the Wild Things Are” ranks high on my list of favorite books.) SO wonderful. You’re inspiring!

        December 12, 2012
      • jimbey #

        I LOVE THAT BOOK! But I’m STILL afraid of horned monsters.

        BTW, check out my profile for a few new pix – including a couple yellow-crowns.

        December 12, 2012
      • Ohhhh! Yay! Birds I have yet to capture, hahah!

        I have yet to see the film version of the book — too afraid that it strayed too far from the book, or that their version of the beasts doesn’t match mine. Tragic! 🙂

        Can you send me your link again? I didn’t bookmark it… Drats.

        December 14, 2012
      • jimbey #

        OK, the link is http://www.flickr.com/photos/us-jimbey/ … and is also linked in my profile. I did a quick look through my archives – several pix of Limpkins, but no good close-ups. I’ve got to go get busy and get some.

        December 14, 2012
      • @!#(!(!!!! They’re gorgeous! I definitely have not seen one. Perhaps they stick close to the ocean?? I’m there rarely… But they’re beautiful!

        Isn’t it odd, that many photogs around here don’t have an abundance of Limpkin images? I was speaking with a photographer — amazing, lovely work of birds — and she said the same! But ditto, I’ll now be looking for more shots. 🙂

        December 14, 2012
  3. As always… lovely photos and great information. Sitting in a Wifi cafe in the Azores. Nice to have decent Internet access so I can check in on my favorite blogs.

    December 12, 2012
    • You’re so kind… Thanks!!

      And, WHAT? Oh wow. I actually had to look that up, for shame. How amazing. I could work from home THERE…! 🙂

      December 12, 2012
      • Quite pretty FeyGirl. Watching birds as I came in today, I thought of your blog. Next stop Fort Lauderdale but we won’t be getting off of the ship.

        December 12, 2012
      • Ah! My (relatively) neck of the woods!

        Just lovely. I imagine it’s quite a scene… I can’t wait to read about it!

        December 12, 2012
      • Trip blogs will start as soon as I finish posting Liberia in January.

        December 14, 2012
  4. I’ve never heard of the limpkin, and certainly never have heard that call. I laughed – I’m learning a good bit about learning about birds. When you mentioned their call, I headed straight to the Cornell site and listened. Then – lo and behold! – you had a link.

    Those snails are amazing. I love collecting the snail-like seashells, too. The moonshell and sundial are two that we can find here in Texas – of course the shelling isn’t nearly as good as what I’ve seen from your spot on earth.

    Good to hear there’s hope for these lovelies. I found a youtube of some babies – cute isn’t nearly a good enough word!

    December 12, 2012
    • Hahah! That’s great…. See? How could I provide all this tempting information without the actual link?

      Their sounds are just lovely — very close to hawks. We actually have one in the neighborhood that I always confuse with our hawk. Hawk or Limpkin? 🙂 But to hear them on hikes in the Everglades or wetlands is just lovely. So haunting.

      Oooooh I’ve never heard of your shells! I have to check them out. Oh yes — we have some decent beaches for shelling, heh. I have quite a slew from where I was raised, though (Micronesia). I’ll leave the rest for new discoveries. OK, except for the crazy apple snails.

      December 12, 2012
  5. Pam #

    Love these birds! First time I heard the call I was entranced – took me awhile to figure it out.

    December 12, 2012
    • They really are emblematic of Florida’s wetlands and Everglades, aren’t they? It’s a shame that our sad conservation efforts in the face of @#(@(# rampant development is hurting this symbol (they are in my mind, anyways — every time I hear their call). Very haunting.

      December 12, 2012
  6. Aw – I hope this goofy bird strengthens. I’m not much of a snail-eater, so they can have my share of the escargot. ❤

    December 12, 2012
    • Heh heh… PERFECTION! I love it. 🙂 That’s so very clever, thanks for the giggle.

      Here’s to wishing this little lovely goofball all the chances he deserves.

      December 12, 2012
  7. Limpkins are one type of bird I have few pictures of. The first one I remember photographing was in St. Cloud I think and I thought it was a very delicate thing in movement. The next place I saw them was when exploring the rim canal of Lake Okeechobee. The are not rare I’d say but uncommon. I like the soft brown eyes they have. I did listen to the link for the bird call as I could not have told you what its sound was.

    December 12, 2012
    • You describe them beautifully… They ARE very delicate in movement! And, while not rare, a bit uncommon in our area, unfortunately. If we were taking better care of CONSERVING OUR LAND, they’d be more common.

      And their eyes… So very soft, just like you say. But you’ve never heard one in the wild? They can sound very close to hawks. We actually have one in the neighborhood that I always confuse with our hawk. Hawk or Limpkin? 🙂 But their sound… To hear them on hikes in the Everglades or wetlands is just lovely. So haunting.

      December 12, 2012
  8. Wonderful photos and info about this beautiful and fascinating bird!
    I don’t often see one and am thrilled to be seeing your photos!

    December 12, 2012
    • Thanks so much! It’s sad that in our area, I don’t see them as much as I should… But at least they’re more common in other areas. They would be thriving if their land was, that’s for sure.

      December 12, 2012
  9. Beautiful – never seen one before. In the first photo it looks like it may be keeping track of you.

    December 12, 2012
    • He was! Good eye. 🙂 They’re quite shy and skittish…. I got him just in time before he skedaddled. Their calls are something to hear, though… Especially live in our ‘glades.

      December 12, 2012
  10. “Wail of the Limpkin” is a wonderful title.

    December 12, 2012
    • Thanks so much! So appropriate for these lovelies and their haunting calls….

      December 12, 2012
  11. I learn so much from you posts. Bet I know their call but never knew what it was. Crazy snails.

    December 12, 2012
    • Hee, thanks!! I’m not sure if they make it that far north… They sound very similar to hawks, till the very end. That’s when you can tell. And a bit higher in pitch. But so haunting… I love to hear them on hikes.

      December 14, 2012
  12. Great post!

    December 13, 2012
    • Thanks so very much! I love to hear these lovelies on hikes….

      December 14, 2012
  13. Another great post! Thanks for the link to the sound track; it helped bring it more alive! 🙂

    December 13, 2012
    • Thanks so very much! Truly, their calls DO bring them alive… Especially these guys, who are so known by their sound. So very haunting! Especially as you’re out in the ‘glades, all alone. 🙂

      December 14, 2012
  14. I have never heard of this bird but that is quite the call.. pretty loud too.. I don’t think this post is linked into Nature Notes so I will go and add it.. and thank you for your support..Michelle

    December 13, 2012
    • It’s such a lovely call — VERY reminiscent of hawks, till the very end, when it goes up just a bit. But the sound is so very haunting…. Just wonderful to hear on hikes.

      Hmmmm…. I should be linked to Nature Notes! I put your icon, and linked to it, at the bottom of the post!

      December 14, 2012
  15. What lovely shots of the bird. I’ve learnt so much too. So glad to hear there is hope for them.

    December 13, 2012
    • Thanks so much…. Oddly, I don’t have many images of this lovely! I must get more. 🙂 You’re right — I’m so happy to see them more. And the more land we’re able to protect, the more they’ll be able to hunt in their natural areas…and not man-made canals.

      December 14, 2012
  16. Wonderful, as usual. I was really impressed by the sound these birds make, especially the initial vocalization. Striking and beautiful.

    December 14, 2012
    • THANK you!! 🙂

      The sound of these birds is just lovely…. It truly is the sound of this area, the ‘glades. They sound very much like hawks, sometimes — except at the very, very end… We have one in our neighborhood, and each night at dusk, there he is, calling away. Very haunting.

      December 14, 2012
  17. Limpkins have long been one of my favorite Florida birds…I love their cry…I’ve b een on the phone and when a limpkin called out, the person on the other end of the call could hear them…it’s so distinctive
    Nadbugs of the Catself blog brought me here and i’m so pleased…I love discovering other Florida bloggers and seeing their appreciation for our beautiful state

    December 14, 2012
    • How wonderful…. So nice to meet a fellow FLA blogger! 🙂

      Aren’t their sounds so wonderfully haunting? I hike a lot, and to hear them so far out in the wilderness is…something. They can sound a lot like hawks, till the very end…. Then you know. Definitely the sound of our area!

      December 14, 2012
  18. Great to see you are championing the cause of protecting and preserving nature! It seems like there are fewer and fewer people who take the time to go out and spend time just observing other living things. And when people stop spending time in nature, there will be little hope of saving any of it. Thanks for what you are doing to try to spread the good word! Your photos and text are wonderful.

    December 14, 2012
    • Thanks so very much! That’s the highest compliment I could ever hope for…. 🙂

      And you’re absolutely right. The more that people get out and visit these wonderful places, the higher likelihood that they’ll be saved — and that MORE will be protected from obliteration for strip malls and housing tracts. It helps my sanity, escaping to these amazing and wondrous places. Truly.

      December 14, 2012
  19. Great post and good information about one of my favorites! Mornings in the marsh wouldn’t be complete without the Limpkins calling to each other at sunrise. I’ve only taken about 100 pics of Limpkins in the last 2 months….I guess they ARE one of my favorites! 🙂

    December 15, 2012
    • Thanks so much! And…exactly! Without their cries, this area would not be the same. You’re lucky to have so many shots of these guys — I’ve spoken to a few photogs in the area, and for some reason we don’t have many!

      December 16, 2012
  20. Thanks for introducing me to another bird. I have never heard of Limpkins before.

    December 17, 2012
    • I’m so happy! The best part…besides their gentleness…is their call. So very haunting, it’s truly the sound of the wetlands and the Everglades!

      December 17, 2012
      • You certainly have a lot of exotic birds in the Everglades–a nature photographers dream, to be sure.

        December 17, 2012
      • Truly!! ESPECIALLY in the winter, during nesting and breeding times… Oh my! 🙂

        December 18, 2012
      • Not many birds nest here in the winter. Except last year crows were fledging in January–strangest thing. I had baby crows outside my window doing their food begging thing in the middle of winter. Usually that happens in April or May.

        December 18, 2012
      • Ah, crows are just amazing though! I have several books on corvids in my reading queue. AMAZING animals / intelligence. Wish we had them here.

        December 19, 2012
      • jimbey #

        We’ve got crows here! I usually only seem them in the mornings, though.

        December 19, 2012
      • I’ve only seen crows a handful of times — and I don’t know why!?

        December 20, 2012
  21. Am slow on the uptake but the pictures – as always – are just exquisite. Here is hoping that you had a very good Christmas and enjoyed your time with family and friends. Mari

    December 25, 2012
    • Thanks so much!!! Hope you had a wonderful holiday as well — I’m bundled up, with family up north. Brrrrrr!!!!!

      XO, Christina

      December 26, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Wail of the Limpkin « Philip's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: