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Rare sighting in NC: A limpkin arrives

Birders from all over the state are enjoying a quite different visitor from the Sunshine State in the upper reaches of Lake Norman: a limpkin.
Birders from all over the state are enjoying a quite different visitor from the Sunshine State in the upper reaches of Lake Norman: a limpkin. Lori Owenby.

Many Florida residents visit North Carolina during the summer, but those residents are not necessarily restricted to humans. Birders from all over the state are enjoying a quite different visitor from the Sunshine State in the upper reaches of Lake Norman: a limpkin.

Limpkins are large unique waders common only in Florida. Incredibly, however, an individual has been hanging out and foraging on mudflats on the Catawba County portion of the lake. Very rarely do they move north of their established range. There are only four previous records of limpkin from North Carolina, all from the coastal plain; therefore, this is the first record of the species from the Piedmont region.

Birders have been coming from all over to add this limpkin to their N.C. State List, and with good reason – the last time a limpkin showed up in the state was 1998. I made the drive to New Bern back then to see the only limpkin I have yet to see in North Carolina. Just as I was successful back then, everyone who has come to see this bird has been equally successful as far as I know.

Limpkins resemble immature night-herons and immature white ibises in plumage. Ibis have a strongly curved bill, and night-herons have shorter, stockier bills. They are most closely related to cranes and rails, however. They get their name from their peculiar limping gait. Indeed they are such an unusual bird that they are the only living member of their family.

For now the bird is content with its mudflat under a railroad trestle spanning the lake. In Florida apple snails make up the bulk of the limpkin’s diet. They use their specially adapted bill to extract the snail without having to break the shell. There aren’t any apple snails here, so I imagine the bird is getting by on a diet of freshwater mussels in the mud and shallow water of the receding shoreline.

Currently it is accessible only by canoe, boat or kayak. But birds move around. When it decides to move it could show up anywhere else in the area. It might even decide to move south into Mecklenburg County. I sure would like to add this bird to my Mecklenburg bird list.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com. Check out his blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com

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