2022 – Year of the Limpkin!

A visitor from the south, this Limpkin was found in early September, 2022, at the lake of the Japanese Gardens at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO.

Prior to 2022, the Limpkin, a bird with a normal range from Florida to the north to northern Argentina to the south, had never before been recorded in the state of Missouri. This year there have been at least 10 birds recorded in the state so far, the latest finally coming from the good part of the state! 😉 The bird featured here was found in early September by Cathy Spahn at the Japanese Garden of the Missouri Botanical Garden in downtown St. Louis City. This was extraordinary timing as the annual Japanese festival at MOBOT was going on at the time. This meant large crowds of people. Several of us arrived early on the morning of the 5th and found the bird quickly, giving us great looks and not seeming to mind the presence of people at all.

Here the Limpkin can be seen in the context of the Japanese Garden, with visitors on the zig-zag bridge, or Yatsuhashi, across the water.

The Limpkin looks like a heron in appearance, but is actually the only extant member of its own family, the Aramidae, and is actually considered most closely related to the rails. It is also unique in feeding primarily on apple snails but will feed on other types of snails, freshwater mussels and clams and small aquatic arthropods like crayfish as it forages through its preferred habitat of brushy swamps and marshes.

The crooked overlap at the tip of its bill is not an abnormality. This aids the Limpkin in removing snails, their preferred food, from their shells.

This influx of Limpkins into the Show Me State wasn’t exactly a surprise. Limpkin reports outside of Florida began around 2015, with records being found in Georgia, and other southeastern states over the following years. Birders have been waiting for them to show up in Missouri for a few years and now they finally have. The reasons for their northward spread are uncertain but are likely due to the spread of an exotic island apple snail originally from tropical and subtropical South America.

The Limpkin foraging among the lotus at the lake of the Japanese Garden.

I had thought about chasing Limpkins previously seen in the state in 2022 but couldn’t get myself talked into the roughly 600 mile round trip drive this would have taken. I’m so glad I saved the gas! This was quite the experience and I’ll be interested in seeing how long this bird stays in St. Louis. Here are a few more photos of this fantastic bird.