At a Glance
Looking like something between a crane and a rail, this odd wading bird has no close relatives. It is widespread in the American tropics, but enters our area only in Florida and southern Georgia -- only where it can satisfy its dietary requirement for a certain fresh-water snail. Mostly solitary, Limpkins may be overlooked as they stalk about in marshes and swamps; they draw attention with their piercing banshee wails, often heard at dawn or at night.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Limpkins, Long-legged Waders
Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
Direct Flight, Running
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
In South America, may move around somewhat with wet and dry seasons. Permanent resident in limited range in United States. Strays have very rarely wandered farther north.
25-28" (64-71 cm). Large, with long legs and long neck. Mostly deep brown with sharp white streaks on the neck, back, and shoulders. Long bill is slightly downcurved and paler at base.
About the size of a Heron, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, White, Yellow
Songs and Calls
A loud, wailing krrr-eeeow.
Croak/Quack, Odd, Scream
Fresh swamps, marshes. In Florida, found in open fresh-water marshes, along the shores of ponds and lakes, and in wooded swamps along rivers and near springs; locally in river swamps in Georgia. Throughout most of its tropical range, its habitat and distribution are dictated by the presence of apple snails (Pomacea).
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Usually 4-8. Olive to buff, blotched with brown and gray. Incubation is by both sexes, but incubation period not well known. Young: Downy young leave the nest within a day after hatching, and follow one or both parents. Probably both parents feed young. Development of young and age at first flight not well known.
Downy young leave the nest within a day after hatching, and follow one or both parents. Probably both parents feed young. Development of young and age at first flight not well known.
Forages by walking in shallow water, searching for snails visually, also by probing in mud and among floating vegetation. May feed at night, especially on moonlit nights. Moves to solid ground to remove snail from shell or to pound mussel open. The tip of the bill usually curves slightly to the right, which may help in removing snail from curved shell. The bill also usually has a slight gap just behind the tips of the mandibles, which may help in carrying and manipulating the snails.
Large snails. Eats mostly large apple snails (genus Pomacea). In Florida, will also eat other kinds of snails and mussels; also sometimes insects, crustaceans, worms, frogs, lizards.
Breeding behavior not well known. May nest in loose colonies where food is abundant. Nest site for nest varies; may be on ground near water, in marsh grass just above water, or in shrubs or trees above or near water, up to 20' high or sometimes much higher. Nest is a platform of reeds and grass, lined with finer plant material.
Limpkin had been hunted almost to extinction in Florida by beginning of 20th century; with legal protection, has made a fair comeback. Probably declining in parts of tropical range.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Limpkin. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Limpkin
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.