CROW Case of the Week: Limpkin (#18-0551)

The limpkin (Aramus guarauna) is an odd-looking bird that also goes by the name crying bird, most likely for its unmistakable piercing wails. It is also called carrao or courlan. While a full-sized limpkin looks more like a heron or ibis, its skeletal makeup more closely resembles a crane. It has tall, long legs with a long beak. It is distinguishable by its mostly brown body that sports white spots throughout. One can usually see this type of bird in marshes and swampy forests. 

What makes the limpkin unique is its diet. It feeds almost exclusively on apple snails, which are regularly found in the aquarium trade but are also wild in Florida ditches and ponds. The limpkin’s long and heavy bill helps pry shells of apple snails apart then cuts through the muscle to pull the snail out in a quick process that generally takes less than half a minute. While apple snails are the limpkin’s preferred primary source of food, they can also dine on frogs, lizards, worms, insects and other crustaceans if needed. While the limpkin is not on the country’s birds watch list, it is regarded as a species of “high concern.” It was hunted to near extinction some 100 years ago, but legal protection aided in its species revival. 

At CROW, an adult limpkin was admitted with... a limp. The bird was initially brought to one of the clinic’s drop-off locations. The finder noted that the bird was found “caught in fishing line,” but no location of where the bird was found was provided. 

Upon examination at intake, the limpkin’s left foot was noted to have swelling over the metatarsophalangeal joint. X-rays showed the left foot had no fractures and no obvious joint involvement. 

“The metatarsophalangeal joint is the joint just above the foot, which looks like an ankle on people, but actually correlates to the joints between the foot and the toes,” said Dr. Malka Spektor, CROW veterinary intern. “The joint is used in birds to stand and move the feet.”

CROW medical staff also noticed one of the patient’s toes on its right foot had a P3 amputation. While the toe amputation was questioned as a causal effect of the monofilament line, Dr. Spektor stated that was not the case. “The amputation appears to be an old injury that is fully healed,” she said. “It is just missing a portion of one toe, which should not hinder the patient.”

An infection may cause a delay in the limpkin’s recovery process. “The next step for the patient is to reduce the swelling in the foot, and to ensure it does not affect the joint. A major concern is an infection present in the area, even though one was not present on initial testing,” said Dr. Spektor. “The limpkin is on antibiotics and pain medication to target the swelling and hopefully improve it.”

The patient was provided with fluids, pain medications and soft footing in its enclosure. It was also provided with apple snails. “The foot is still swollen this weekend,” said Dr. Spektor on March 18. “A regional limb perfusion (to treat the infection) is planned to focus the antibiotics directly to the area. Once the swelling is controlled, the patient will be moved outside to regain strength prior to release.”


CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.

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