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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

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