limpkin or courlan (kŏrˈlən) [key], common terms for a long-legged, nonmigratory marsh bird, considered the connecting evolutionary link between the crane and the rail. They have a cranelike skeletal structure, but their digestive system, as well as their nesting habits and behavior, is raillike. There is only one species, Aramus quarauna, which is divided into 5 subspecies, some found exclusively in South America and the others found from South Carolina and Florida to Argentina. Limpkins are large (28 in./70 cm) grayish-brown birds that feed on freshwater snails and mollusks. Their name derives from their limping flight, with legs dangling and wingbeats jerky; although weak and infrequent fliers they are good swimmers. Limpkins roost in trees and nest in marsh grass or low bushes. They lay four to eight eggs per clutch with both male and female incubating the young. They are noisy birds; their sad call gives them the name "crying bird." Because limpkins were considered good food birds, they were almost wiped out in Florida and Georgia. Today, they are protected and are regaining their former abundance. Limpkins are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Gruiformes, family Aramidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.