Tropical creature makes ‘rare’ stop in Michigan, officials say. See it snack on snails

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A tropical bird native to Florida made an unusual visit to the opposite corner of the country, piquing the interest of bird enthusiasts and experts.

The winged traveler, a limpkin — a gangly and speckled swamp-dweller — touched down in Barry County, Michigan, on Sept. 26, according to a Facebook post from the Historic Charlton Park.

“The park was busy this morning with birders out to spot this rare visitor,” park officials said. “As far as we know, this is the first sighting of one in Barry County, and possibly only the third sighting of one in Michigan!”

The brown-and-white bird can be seen wading in the Thornapple River and guzzling down snails in photos released by the park.

What are Limpkins?

While they’re widespread throughout Central America, limpkins are typically found in only two American states: Florida and Georgia, according to the National Audubon Society.

The solitary birds wade in shallow marshes, rivers and ponds, foraging for large snails — typically apple snails.

The lanky, long-beaked birds are known for their “piercing banshee wails, often heard at dawn or at night,” according to the organization.

They’re named for the way they appear to limp across bumpy wetland terrain, according to the Florida Museum.

Why are they in Michigan?

This is now the third limpkin officially recorded in The Mitten State, Chad Machinski, a conservation manager with the Michigan Audubon Society, told McClatchy News in an email.

The first two were spotted in 2022, while eight other states recorded their first limpkin sightings that year, Machinski said.

The phenomenon was dubbed the “Hot Limpkin Summer” by the American Birding Association.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly might cause the birds’ peculiar pit stops, Machinski said. But several factors could be at play.

Limpkins can be spurred to wander if their wetland habitats dry up, Machinski said. Parts of Florida, including the Tampa area, are currently experiencing drought, which could trigger movement in limpkin populations.

“Florida, which has most of the United States Limpkins, has undergone significant land changes and has lost many freshwater wetlands,” Machinski said. “This may be putting a strain on the available habitat for Limpkins, causing the birds to be more exploratory.”

When it comes to new habitats, Michigan may be appealing as it is home to the Chinese mystery snail, a large invasive species, Machinski said.

“So when Limpkins turn up here, they do have a food source,” Machinski said.

Young limpkins may also become vagrants if they are pushed from their territories, requiring them to establish their own, Machinski said.

While weather events such as hurricanes have buffeted birds like flamingos across the U.S., they are less likely to affect limpkin disbursement, Machinski said.

“Limpkins don’t migrate,” Machinski said. “They are somewhat sedentary birds that are not as exposed to the complications of migration.”

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