February 2012 Bird Photo of the Month

Portrait of a Limpkin © J. R. Williams
(Aramus guarauna)

What a portrait — a confident presence! We rarely see human-like portraits of a bird. Only at a distance with his Cannon EOS 50D Camera 1/400, f/8.0, ISO 250 using a EF 100-400mm lens at 235mm, was photographer J R Williams able to bring the feather and facial details into fine focus depicting this Limpkin’s inner aliveness.

Sixty years ago Limpkins were plentiful, but became rare as development reduced their food source by draining wetlands. However, now Limpkins thrive here, even in some populated community retention ponds, perhaps due to the recent proliferating invasive Island Apple snail Pomacea canaliculata. Limpkins snap their wings, flying like their cousins the Sandhill Cranes. They are smaller with long curved bills, thus often confused with the immature mottled brown White Ibis. All birds’ bills are shaped to best access their primary food source. Notice the bottom mandible slightly curves to its right, allowing the bill to slip more easily around the shell door (operculum) and the curves of the Apple snail. Then like forceps bringing mandibles together, the Limpkin severs the muscle attachments. In 20 seconds a tasty delicious snail is eaten, where plentiful consuming one every 2-3 min, some 40-50 per day, piles of broken empty shells are left at extraction sites.

Limpkins are rarely seen in the US outside of Florida because snails do not thrive below 50ºF. They are common in other Caribbean, Central and South American tropical countries. The male, often heard before being seen, with it’s loud, repetitious raucous calls stakes out its territory, then another male may screech back, “Carao!” Listen, during pair bonding Jan-April, for the female answering with a softer “gon.”

Juanita Baker
Coordinator of the Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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