GCBO Bird of the Month
by Mike Williams

The Limpkin, (Aramus guarauna), is a member of the order Gruiformes, (Cranes, Rails and Bustards). It is the single member of the family Aramidae. Its heritage is somewhat confused as it has at various times thought to have been related to shorebirds and herons but recent DNA studies show it is most closely related to the Sungrebe. Due to this, some have placed it in the Heliornithidae family, (finfoots). It has four distinct subspecies and ranges from Florida in the North, through Central America and most of North and East South America as far South as Buenos Aries. It should be noted that it has recently extended its range into Louisiana. In 2021, it has been found in at least 3 separate locations in Southeast Texas, which may constitute permanent range expansion, or just birds out wandering. The pictus subspecies is the one found in the US (and Cuba and Jamaica). Limpkins are typically non-migratory.

Its habitat is wooded and brushy freshwater swamps, but food supply and the availability of apple snails (a non-native invasive snail) seems to govern where limpkins can be found. Limpkins have also been observed in savannah, and humid forests with elevations as high as 3000 feet.

Apple snails make up the bulk of the limpkin’s food supply, but it will also eat mussels, frogs and insects. Snails are smashed with the opening face up; the bill being driven inside. The bill is uniquely adapted for this purpose, being slightly curved to the right at the tip to go inside the shell and cut its attachments to the shell.

Nesting season typically runs from February to June in Florida, but typically runs later elsewhere in the Northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, the season is June to January. Territories are held all year round if food is abundant but may be abandoned in times of scarcity. Territories are large (up to 4 hectares – 9.8 acres), and mated pairs are often seen foraging together. Nests are very varied from being totally open on a marsh to being hidden by reeds. It is usually just above water level into which 3-8 eggs are laid. Incubation lasts 26-28 days and is performed by both parents. Once hatched, the chicks are led to a separately constructed brooding platform close to an abundant food supply. The young typically fledge at 8-9 weeks and will disperse at 12-14 weeks. Second clutches are common. 


A distinctive large brown marsh bird with white streaks on its head neck and wings. Its bill is curved down and is usually light colored. Its neck and legs are both long. Sexes are similar. Limpkins are very vocal and can be heard at quite a distance. Its typical call is a loud rolling “kkrrrraarow” but it does also make a rapid “kow” clicking noise and an occasional winnow.

Interesting Facts:

  • 2021 marks the Limpkin's first appearance in Texas and has now been seen in at least 3 locations with multiple individuals being seen. Numbers are decreasing in Florida and the range expansion is likely due to food scarcity.
  • Named after its unusual gait while walking and a limping-like flight with dangly legs trailing.
  • A group of limpkins is known as a hobbling.

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