IN A CLASS OF ITS OWN: THE LIMPKIN
The Limpkin has a special status: it is in a Class of its own. Actually, it is in a Family of its own in terms of strict Linnean classification. It is in the Class ‘bird’ and the Order ‘crane and rail’. But there is no other creature in its Family or Genus. So it’s on its own, bird-wise. None like it anywhere. It is ‘monotypic’.
These snail eaters are said to be named for their somewhat lame walking method on their long legs. Their long downcurved bills are shaped to act rather like tweezers when feeding on snails. I’ve never managed to get very close to one – they seem to be quite secretive. But boy, can you hear them when they decide to go for it. If you ever hear this sound – quite possibly at night – now you’ll know what creature is making it…
Jerome Fischer / Xeno-Canto
TEN LIMPID LIMPKIN FACTS TO ENTHRAL YOUR FRIENDS
- The Limpkin has its own ‘monotypic’ family – a one-off species of bird
- They eat snails and molluscs (also insects, worms & frogs), using their beaks to snatch them
- They may leave piles of discarded shells in their favourite feeding sites
- The birds are ungainly and awkward: ‘limpkin’ probably derives from their limping gait
- Males and females have the same plumage (males being slightly larger)
- The beak acts like tweezers – slightly open and closing at the tip – for tweaking snails etc
- Territory is defended aggressively, with ‘ritualized charging and wing-flapping’ at intruders
- Sex lives: they are monogamous; or polyandrous (a male and more than one female. Tsk.)
- They use ‘courtship feeding’ – males will catch and shell a snail and then feed it to a female
- They are also known as the ‘Crying Bird’ for their bizarre shrieking call, as used in films**
** Specifically, as a generic jungle noise in Tarzan films; and apparently for the hippogriff in one of the Harry Potter films.