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One of North America’s most curious birds, the Limpkin is singular in appearance and unusual in its diet, with extraordinary vocal habits and a restricted range in the United States. It looks like an oversized rail, well camouflaged in brown with spots of white, and is a locally distributed resident in freshwater marsh and riparian habitats from Florida south through the Caribbean islands and Central and South America as far as Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia. In Florida, where it has been best studied, its diet is almost exclusively apple snails (Pomacea paludosa), which it deftly finds and opens with the aid of a bent and twisted bill tip, leaving characteristic piles of unbroken snail shells. The male’s loud and mournful calling is especially distinctive. The sound of several males countercalling has been described as “one of the weirdest cacophonies of nature” (Sprunt 1954: 141). Ritualistic territorial charging displays, courtship feeding, and a surprising variety of nest sites add to this species’ unusual appeal.
Most information on the Limpkin is provided from a few detailed natural-history studies (Nicholson 1928, Ingalls 1972, Bryan 1981, Walkinshaw 1982). The apple-snail diet and foraging techniques are also well documented (Cottam 1936, Snyder and Snyder 1969). Little is known of this species outside its restricted Florida range.
Wetland conversion for agriculture, flood control, and development has been the largest conservation threat in Florida.
With over half of the wetlands in central and southern Florida having been lost during the last century, apple snail habitat has been greatly reduced. Water-level manipulations that harm apple snail populations still occur in the widely engineered and highly political water management environment of southern Florida. Nevertheless, recent accomplishments and future plans for wetland restoration in the greater Everglades and the Upper St. Johns River Marsh offer substantial hope for improved apple snail and Limpkin habitat. Little is known of the status of the Limpkin elsewhere in its range.