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Guess who decided to visit the Nature Center this year? Learn more about the limpkin that spent the winter in the marsh.
The profile of the limpkin shows the long bill used for opening freshwater mussels and snails. Photo by K.P. Wilska.

It happens often. You’re driving and get distracted. As a result, you miss a turn or an exit and find yourself somewhere other than your destination. This happens to wildlife as well. When this occurs at the Nature Center, we can reap the rewards of seeing an animal not from around here. This winter, many visitors noticed a bird they could not find in the field guides of wildlife belonging in this area. Sightings began to mount, and we were able to confirm that a limpkin (Aramus guarauna) was spending winter in the marsh.

The limpkin is a large, rail-like bird, with dark brown feathers. With the right amount of light, you can see a hint of green iridescence to the feathers. Along with brown feathers, the limpkin also has white spots that begin around the back and work their way up to the lower neck, with the white transitioning to streaks. Limpkins have long toes to walk easily in muddy terrain and long legs to wade in the water looking for snails and freshwater mussels. The bird possesses a long, saber-like bill that is perfect for eating snails and mussels. The bill is slightly curved to the right to allow access into the right-hand curve of a snail’s shell. The tip of the bill is twisted at a right angle to pull the snail from the shell. From the tip of the tail to the head, limpkins measure 26 inches. The wingspan can reach up to 40 inches. This bird tops the scales at a whopping 2.6 pounds. It has been said their name comes from the appearance they are “limping.”

A limpkin using its bill to open a freshwater mussel at the Nature Center. Photo by Robert Chura.
According to eBird, one of the largest science projects that collects data of bird locations and managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the first individual limpkin arrived in the United States on April 18, 1958, at Wakulla Springs State Park in Wakulla, Florida. In the 1960s, the birds expanded their range to a higher concentration in the lower portions of Florida and even an individual in Davidson, Tennessee. The limpkin continued to spread and began moving toward South America, Central America, and Mexico. At the turn of the century, limpkins established higher concentrations in Florida in the areas listed above. It was not until January 2021 when the first limpkin was reported in Texas along the West Keegans Bayou Jogging Trail in Fort Bend.
 
Southeast Texas soon became the location of a visible colony. In 2022, limpkins began moving north to the Metroplex, establishing the area as prime habitat. The first documented case of a limpkin at the Nature Center dates to July 2022. Since this initial sighting, a total of 36 entries have been submitted to eBird. When entering a limpkin sighting, one is encouraged to provide a photo, which could receive slight scrutiny from eBird administration. As more entries are submitted, sightings will become less questionable. The last sighting was on March 11, 2024, by Nature Center staff.
 
Sightings like the limpkin have rejuvenated wildlife watchers across our area. Documenting wildlife sightings in eBird and iNaturalist is a great way to arouse public interest in visiting places like the Nature Center. Visitors look forward to finding rare wildlife, along with the normal wildlife that is expected to be seen. We invite you to the Nature Center to view the wide variety of wildlife found here. Maybe you will be the first person to see the next rare bird or other form of wildlife.
By Michael Perez, Natural Scientist Supervisor, Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge

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