Limpkins are a very special bird for Florida because Florida is the only state in the U.S. where they live. They are found year-round there, where apple snails, insects, worms, and mussels can be found in abundance. These birds are the only members in their taxonomic family and they have a very distinctive call, making them truly unique.
A favorite food of the Limpkin is apple snails. In fact, their bills have adapted over time specifically to help with foraging of these snails. The end of the bill acts as a pair of tweezers and is curved slightly to the right to allow the Limpkin to access the inside of the apple snail’s shell and extract it. Limpkins can extract an apple snail from its shell in ten to twenty seconds without causing any damage to the shell. While Limpkins look similar to herons and ibises, they are more closely related to rails and cranes. Limpkins are very well known for their unique vocals and have been nicknamed the “wailing bird”. Their piercing call has even been used for the wild animal sound effects in movies and as the sound of the hippogriff in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”. The chorus of several territorial male Limpkins causes an eerie effect unlike any other sound that can be found in nature. These territorial males are often aggressive and charge at each other while issuing their loud calls.
Florida is a perfect habitat for Limpkins because of the many marshes, swamps, rivers, lakes, and ponds that are available for them to wade and forage through. Limpkins create a platform of vegetation including sticks, grass, and moss for their nests. These nests can be found on floating vegetation or in the treetops. European settlers in the 1800s described Limpkins as being very tame, sometimes even being caught while in their nests. Perhaps this is why Limpkins in Florida were almost wiped out at one point by hunting. Their numbers were also threatened by development of wetland into farming and living areas for humans. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has listed the Limpkin as a Species of Special Concern. Although their population is fairly stable today, Limpkins still face threats. These threats include wetland drainage, which damages the apple snail population and the invasion of non-native plants that obscure a Limpkin’s ability to find food.
Lake Okeechobee, Orlando Wetlands Park, and the south-central Florida region are great places to view Limpkins in their natural habitats. Limpkins are particularly abundant at the marshy edges of Lake Okeechobee and can constantly be heard issuing calls and responses to each other. Limpkins can also be spotted around canals, ponds, and channels. Because they have adapted to the presence of humans, Limpkins can even be found in the ponds of golf courses or housing developments.
Limpkins are a unique bird for many reasons, from their special foraging bill to their incredible vocals. They also add another unique flavor to Florida’s wildlife since Florida is the only state that is home to these exceptional birds.