On the Move

In mid-July, I read a post on a list-serve dedicated to Iowa birders who share their sightings with other birders. It was a post about a Limpkin that was spotted near Little Storm Lake.

If you aren’t a birder and don’t live in Florida, you are probably wondering just what is a Limpkin. On the other hand, if you are a birder, you have probably heard that this species is showing up in states where it has seldom, if ever, been seen before.

I have only seen one Limpkin in my life-time and that was at a Florida Disney Resort (I was attending a conference). To see a Limpkin in Iowa is a rarity.

First, what is a Limpkin?

The Limpkin is a long-legged, long-necked bird of brownish color with white spots. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 2500 f/6.3, 1/320. ©Stanley Buman.

A tropical bird, the Limpkin is found in Florida, Central, and South America. Its primary food source is the Apple Snail, a certain type of snail native to Florida. The Limpkin’s long bill, with a twist at the tip, is specially adapted to extracting escargot from the shell. Human-caused habitat destruction to waterways in Florida reduces the Apple Snail population, thereby also the Limpkin population.

The Limpkin’s large feet enable it to move through a wetland with ease. Snails make up the largest portion of their diet. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 640 f/6.3, 1/1000. ©Stanley Buman.

Why are single Limpkins showing up in places like Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Minnesota for the first or second time ever recorded? That is a hard question to answer. We do know that invasive Chinese Mystery Snails that have been imported by the pet industry (think aquariums) have been released into the wild. These snails are invasive and put other species in peril, further damaging our natural habitats. Yet, it appears that Limpkins enjoy this type of snail. But how would a Limpkin know that these snails exist at a place such as Little Storm Lake in Iowa?

A Limpkin extracts the soft body of the snail out of its shell for its meal. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 640 f/6.3, 1/1000. ©Stanley Buman.

So, what brought this bird to Iowa this summer? Is it a young bird with wanderlust and luckily found a suitable food source for the summer? Was it blown in by a storm having a strong south wind? Will it find its way back south before winter sets in? Will it succumb to starvation when its food source becomes unavailable through the winter months, or will the Limpkin freeze to death? If it does make it back south, will it eventually become a migratory bird, pair up, and expand the nesting range of its species? I think it is unlikely that it will show up again next year at Little Storm Lake. But this is strictly my opinion.

There are so many questions that are challenging to answer, given the complexity of our native ecosystem. Our understanding of the interrelationship of species is nominal at best. Humans have greatly manipulated our planet earth. Some changes are intentional, others aren’t. Time will tell if the Limpkin species can survive all of the challenges that humans have thrust upon it.

4 thoughts on “On the Move”

    1. It is shorter than a Great Blue Heron. Here are the measurements for a Limpkin. Length: 25.0-28.7 inches; Weight: 37.0-48.3 oz; Wingspan: 39.8-42.1 inches. For comparison purposes, a Great Blue Heron would have a length of 38.2-53.9 inches.

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