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The Siren Call of the Crying Limpkin

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Tuesday 20 April 2010

The Siren Call of the Crying Limpkin

“So called because of its awkward gait, it is also known as the Crying Bird because of its distinctive call, a piecing wild sounding scream or wail which it makes especially at night. The noise was so disturbing that the early Florida pioneers "mistook the call of the Limpkin for the haunting wails of tortured souls in the night time swamps". It has also described as,"a hoarse rattling cry like the gasp of person being strangled, like "little boys lost in the swamps forever;" or " an unearthly shriek" with the "quality of unutterable sadness."

Yes, here in the lonely swamps of central Orlando amidst the houses of the well to do, just a spit from the (currently rather quieter) airport and a hairsbreadth from the elegant joggers with their swinging ponytails and iPods, a little limpkin has appeared. To be fair I have not yet heard its plaintive shriek, but this is the most famous attribute of this odd and solitary little bird.

Limpkin by Audubon (the great master) called the “SCOLOPACEOUS COURLAN” from where you can read his notes and very interesting description.


My Limpkin was stalking about in the shallows of the small feeder pond where I walk. This is the pond where I found the apple snail shells and, where there are apple snails, there may be limpkins as these are their preferred food.  I watched it slowly and determinedly walk backwards and forwards several times from a clump of reeds to the shore line.

First it has an apple snail…

limpkin 1

Which it brings to the shore to deal with (you can just see the shells scattered around).


Then back to the reeds where it  buries its head in the bottom of the pond, digging for snails etc.

limpkin 7

This time returning with  a fresh water mussellimpkin4

Which it opens …(This was such an annoying piece of grass). limpkin 5o

and eats.

 limpkin 6

I was some distance away and, although it was not thrilled about me being there, it took its time to finish lunch before walking slowly away.

The interesting Limpkin Aramus Guarauna is a Latin America bird where it is also known the Carou;
from What

  • “The Limpkin is named for its limping-like flight with its dangling legs and jerky wing beats.
  • The only species in its family, it is considered most closely related to rails and cranes.
  • It was once very common in Florida, but due to the decline of its primary food source, the Florida Apple Snail, it is now listed as a SSC (species of special concern).
  • A group of limpkins are collectively known as a "hobbling" of limpkins.

The Famous Hippogriff Cry

Its eldritch shriek has been immortalised in the soundtracks of old Tarzan movies and more recently in Harry Potter because Cornell's Macaulay Library provided the voice of the Winged Hippogriff, read more here and listen to a great recording of its call made in Florida in 1956 here. I also understand it is very annoying to have Limpkins nearby if you are a light sleeper.

The Legend
In Argentina legend tells how a young boy was transformed into the crying bird for preferring to dance to the strains of the accordion and court a pretty girl rather than fetch his dying mothers medicine.  For this thoughtless act he is condemned to wail and cry, waiting for redemption,  pardon and the return of his soul. 


The only thing that haunts me about this pretty little bird is that it is out there, and that I am in here, at the drawing board..

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Blogger Dan said...

A great post Val.
Why, why, why when you see something you really want to photograph is there almost always an annoying piece of vegetation, branch etc. in the way?
Loved the pictures... but missing yours!!
Best wishes

20 April 2010 at 20:24  
Blogger John said...

What a great post, Val. Such wonderful photos of that lovely bird. Thanks for making the connection for me back to my Tarzan days! :-)

21 April 2010 at 01:04  
Blogger Suz said...

what a beautiful bird!
I wish I had been walking with you
The sound of a barred owl is pretty spooky and haunting at night

21 April 2010 at 02:58  
Blogger sharp green pencil said...

Thank you all... It really is a sweet little thing.It was at the pond again today so hopefully it will be around for a while..

I would very much like to hear it, but yes you are right Suz about Owls. We do see owls here but again I have never heard one. Usually the frogs and cicadas drown anything else out. (except of course our noisy neighbours!)

Dan: you are so right about the piece of grass. It actually seems to follow me everywhere..and yes I would love to do a limpkin painting..soon...soon..

John: too young.. surely :)

21 April 2010 at 11:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to hear the limpkin try going over there around 11 pm or 5 am. The first time I heard the one that recently took up residence by the creek out back I nearly called to police because with the A/C and t.v. on I heard screams and thought for a moment someone was torturing a child in my back yard. It is shocking that much noise comes from a cute little bird like that.

Those are great pictures! My neighborly limpkin won't let me get that close even with a 10 zoom on the camera.

15 May 2010 at 13:10  
Blogger sharp green pencil said...

Nicole, thank you. they are really sweet little things . This one comes and goes from the pond. I feel sorry for it because it's always on its own and looks lonely!
I guess its not really.
This one seems remarkably relaxed and I have only a basic camera. Its much "tamer" than the herons or egrets.. maybe its just used to people and has lived in the city for a while. Whatever, it is a privilege to have seen it! I may try to get to hear it, but might get picked up by the police for loitering:)

15 May 2010 at 16:01  

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