Birds that only live in two US states could also settle in Louisiana | New
Invasive apple snails may have lured a South American bird known to live in just two US states to also settle in Louisiana.
The state’s first limpkin census has begun and is expected to last through July, The Courier reports.
Limpkins are long-legged, brown and white waders with downward-curving beaks that are often slightly twisted to the right at the tip, which can help them coax large snails out of their shells, according to the Audubon society.
“They often leave telltale piles of snail shells at the edge of freshwater wetlands where hunting is good,” according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Limpkins are widespread in South America and are also found in Central America. In the United States, they are found only in Florida — where there is a native species of apple snail as well as several invasive relatives — and southern Georgia, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
But Delaina LeBlanc, migratory bird coordinator with the National Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary Program, said she saw dozens during the 2021 Christmas bird count.
“We were barely in the water from the boat launch and we had, I think, 35 in one spot,” she said. “So I’m going to be really curious about what we learn in the different sailing locations we’re going to.”
She wanted a census last year, but the pandemic pushed it back. This year, two graduate students from Nicholls State University started watching and reckoning with her.
Limpkin’s first reported spotting in Louisiana was in 2017 at Lac Boeuf near Thibodaux. Since then, other sightings suggest its numbers are increasing in southern Louisiana, the newspaper reported.
Nesting limpkins have been spotted in Terrebonne Parish since 2018, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reported last year.
Early European settlers thought the bird appeared to limp, “possibly when pursued by hunters with dogs,” notes the Cornell Birdwatching website. “At these times, the usually impassive bird gallops at surprisingly high speeds.”
Louisiana’s count began June 15, with Leblanc, Shasta Kamara, and Casey Greufe making 11 stops along Bayou Chevreuil and another 11 along Grand Bayou to document evidence of limpkin and snails.
At each stop, they stopped the boat for about five minutes, then played a recording of what the Audubon Society describes as the bird’s “sharp banshee moans”.
They saw about a dozen limpkins and heard about 20-25 more. They carry out 15 counts in total in the parishes of St. Mary, Lafourche and Terrebonne.
“They’re very loud, they’re showy, they’re not really too worried about people,” Greufe said.
“I don’t know how he ended up here,” LeBlanc said.
The giant or channeled apple snail is also native to South America. It’s a global rice pest, but it’s done more damage in Louisiana to crayfish, which are often double-grown in rice paddies, according to the LSU AgCenter.
In some fields, adult snails are eating crayfish bait and clogging trap entrances, AgCenter pest control specialist Blake Wilson said last year.
The snails, likely discarded from aquariums, were first reported outdoors in Louisiana in 2006.
But limpkins likely won’t significantly reduce the apple snail population, LeBlanc and Greufe said.
Snail reproduction will likely overwhelm the limpkin’s appetite, Greufe said: “There are just too many snails, it’s just kind of a mess.”