I finally caught up with the Chicago Botanic Garden Limpkin after missing it last weekend and probably walking right by it three weeks ago. The Botanic Garden bird first showed up nearby in the Skokie Lagoons but made its way to the swampy area at the south end of the Botanic Garden and stayed there, gorging on sandwich-sized clams (the spent clam shells are obvious on the bank where the bird has been hanging around). Limpkins are found in wetlands throughout the American tropics and are also common in Florida. The last few years have seen an explosion of them in the eastern United States outside their normal range, with records as far north as southern Canada and as far west as Colorado (from eBird). The Botanic Garden bird is the fourth or fifth Limpkin record for Illinois, the first coming just four years ago in 2019.
Limpkin is a strange, primeval looking bird. As a point of reference, it’s related to cranes and rails, so if you’re familiar with Sandhill Crane or American Coot you’re in the right group of birds. When I see one it always reminds me of a small crane. An interesting tidbit about Limpkin is that its distinctive wailing call is sometimes used as a sound effect in movies. As an example, the scene in “The Godfather: Part 2” where Fredo gets whacked has a Limpkin calling in the background. Obviously the call was added in since there aren’t any Limpkins at Lake Tahoe where the scene was filmed.
What are the chances a Limpkin will show up at Montrose? Pretty slim I’d say. Montrose doesn’t have any marsh or wetland habitat that would be attractive to a Limpkin, and all of the Illinois records have been in this type of habitat. More important than just habitat is that Illinois Limpkin locations have hosted numbers of large mollusks like snails and clams that the birds have been feeding on. Our only chance would be a flyby, so brush up on Limpkin flight identification.