The Great Florida Outdoors: Limpkins

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Dr. Robert Norman, Clinical Professor, Dermatology, Nova Southeastern University

What is going on in this picture?
a. Typical fishing behavior
b. Focusing on an apple snail to eat
c. Mating signal and call
d. Drying of the wings
e. Protective behavior

When you are reading the landscape, look for narratives that you may not have seen before. I have kayaked on the Hillsborough River hundreds of times, but I had never come across what I captured in the picture above and below.

What first caught my attention was a limpkin with wings spread in a defensive posture. As I stopped my paddling to observe more closely, I noted the back of the alligator shown in the lower right. Next my eyes shifted up, and I spotted the baby limpkins scurrying along. The adult limpkin managed to hold off the gator, and eventually the limpkins scattered back into the woods and away from the hungry gator.

Such open-winged displays are very common among wading birds and is usually used in feeding. The limpkin’s posture is a very exceptional use of a common behavior, often seen among some egrets and wood storks that shade the water with their wings, which attracts small fish to the shadow and also helps the bird see in the water by reducing glare.

Get out and look for them in the Great Florida Outdoors!
Dr. Norman is an advanced master naturalist graduate of the FMNP program from UF and a board-certified dermatologist based in Tampa and Riverview. He can be reached at 813-880-7546.

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