Back to Nature (Published on - May 4, 2005)
Memories sparked by the glow of a winter fire
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Under the parents’ watchful eye, a baby limpkin takes a trial swim.
A mother’s love is a natural gift
Her love is like an island
In life’s ocean, vast and wide
A peaceful, quiet shelter
From the wind, the rain, the tide.
– Author Unknown

We walked near the water’s edge. The day was a clear, cool relief from winter. Around a bend of bulrushes a large, brown, speckled bird stood, wing outstretched while he preened each feather with delicate accuracy. The sun glistened upon his back as he shook the lake water from his feathers.

We stood in respectful silence, but once he noticed our presence he cautiously moved toward the stand of bulrushes where he joined his mate. Keeping our distance, quietly we lifted our cameras following the pair with our lenses. My partner began softly whistling. The limpkin pair soon relaxed, but remained close together as they swam back and forth through the reeds, turning over freshwater apple snail shells and poking at debris.

Long legged wading birds, limpkins, Aramus guarauna, were hunted to near extinction until in 1920 a law was passed to protect them. They are still listed as a Species of Special Concern, possibly due to the limpkin’s dependence upon the apple snail. Although limpkins are widespread in the American tropics, limpkins can only be found near freshwater streams, rivers, lakes and marshland areas in Florida where apple snails are common.

Limpkins are between 22 to 28 inches tall with a wingspan of 42 inches. They are predominantly dark brown with a splash of heavy white spots upon their backs and necks.

Little is known about limpkin breeding habits. They seem to be very adaptable in where they choose to build their nests, from the edge of marshland water, to ground level, but, as well, it has been noted that sometimes they will choose to nest in trees up to 20 feet high or higher. Their nests are made of plant material including reeds and grasses.

Limpkins lay between two and four olive to buff colored eggs. The young chicks are “precocial,” i.e.: as young chicks they follow their parents but find their own food and can usually swim on their own within the first couple of days of hatching.

Except during breeding time the limpkin mostly remain solitary. They are not commonly noticed in the wild, due to their excellent camouflage. However, limpkins certainly can be heard at dusk, dawn, night and on cloudy days by their piercing cry or wail, a repetitious: kree-ow, kra-ow, kurr-ur-ee-oww, earning them the name of “crying bird.”

The water sparkled with the rising sun, as we watched the pair of limpkins with delightful curiosity. One bird stayed within the reeds while the other moved about on land walking back and forth from the marsh’s edge to higher ground. Then he joined his mate for a swim. It was at this time we realized why the other bird had remained hidden within the reeds. Tucked between father and mother was a tiny ball of gray fluff. Both parents gently prodded the nestling with their long beaks encouraging the little one to stay close.

Under cautious eyes they took the baby for a trial swim back and forth from the nest and along the shore foraging. We sat in silence. The father proudly strutted about the nest protective, on guard, as the mother then tucked her little one under her wing in safe concealment and back to rest. We realized it was time for us to go and leave this family in peace. Feeling blessed to spend a moment with this caring couple we quietly continued upon our journey back to nature.

As I write this column, a mom with her five newly hatched little ducklings have taken up residence in the quiet seclusion of our back yard. They are an inspiration. Happy Mother’s Day!

Karen can be reached at

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