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.
Category
Limpkins, Long-legged Waders
Conservation
Low Concern
Habitat
Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
Region
Florida, Southeast
Behavior
Direct Flight, Running
Population
1.000.000

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.

Description

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.
Size
About the size of a Heron, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Color
Black, Brown, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Broad, Rounded
Tail Shape
Short

Songs and Calls

A loud, wailing krrr-eeeow.
Call Pattern
Falling
Call Type
Croak/Quack, Odd, Scream

Habitat

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).

Behavior

Eggs

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.

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.

Feeding Behavior

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.

Diet

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.

Nesting

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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

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.

Climate Map

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.

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