In order to truly appreciate this species it should be heard as well as seen. Florida is the place to go to see this unique species. Look for it at dusk, dawn, or on cloudy days in order to hear its unusual call.
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, where it can satisfy its dietary requirement for a certain freshwater 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.
Field MarksA large spotted swamp wader, a bit larger than an ibis. Its long legs and drooping bill give it an ibislike aspect, but no ibis is brown with white spots and streaks. Flight cranelike (smart upward flaps).
Size28" (70 cm)
Similar SpeciesImmature ibises, night-herons, American Bittern.
VoiceA piercing, repeated wail, kree-ow, kra-ow, etc., especially at night and on cloudy days.
RangeSoutheastern United States, West Indies, southern Mexico to Argentina.
MigrationIn South America, may move around somewhat with wet and dry seasons. Permanent resident in limited United States range. Strays have very rarely wandered farther north.
HabitatFresh swamps, marshes. In Florida, found in open freshwater marshes, along the shores of ponds and lakes, and in wooded swamps along rivers and near springs. Throughout most of its tropical range, its habitat and distribution are dictated by the presence of apple snails (Pomacea).
FeedingDiet: Large snails. Eats mostly large apple snails (genus Pomacea). In Florida, also eats other kinds of snails and mussels; sometimes insects, crustaceans, worms, frogs, lizards.
Behavior: Forages by walking in shallow water, searching for snails visually, also by probing in mud and among vegetation. Tip of bill usually curves slightly to the right, which may help in removing snail from curved shell. Bill also usually has a slight gap just behind the tips of the mandibles, which may help in carrying and manipulating snails.
NestingBreeding 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.
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.
ConservationLimpkin had been hunted almost to extinction in Florida by the beginning of the 20th century; with legal protection, has made a fair comeback. Probably declining in parts of tropical range.