Non-native birds sighted at Gantt Lake

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 1, 2017

Birdwatchers flocking to get glimpse of Florida’s Limpkin

Limpkins are a breed of bird native to central Florida, Mexico and South America, but in recent weeks several sightings have occurred at Gantt Lake.

Eric Soehren, a biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said that before this year Limpkins had been spotted across the state of Alabama only a handful of times. One of those occurred at Gantt Lake in 2008.

In May, Limpkins were spotted in three separate locations, again including Gantt Lake.

The interesting thing about the Gantt Lake sightings is that the sightings have been confirmed as multiple birds, while all other locations seem to be one individual bird that stays for a few days and leaves, Soehren said.

“This is a phenomenon that virtually started happening in May,” Soehren said. “We didn’t know exactly how many birds there were but we knew it was more than one because more than one individual could be heard calling.”

The Limpkin’s very distinctive call can be heard from more than a mile away and sounds like a piercing screech.

Soehren and other biologists came to Gantt Lake on May 17 and spotted three different individual birds that day.

“We went down there to investigate and with no problems at all we documented three separate individuals,” he said. “What’s really interesting about Gantt Lake is there is a population of Apple Snails there, and these are native Florida Apple Snails.”

The large Florida Apple Snail is the primary diet of Limpkins and the snails typically do not live outside of central Florida because it cannot survive in colder water.

This population of Apple Snails along with Gantt Lake’s habitat could very well be the reason that these birds are not simply visiting, he said.

“The hypothesis is that these birds somehow stumbled onto these snails at Gantt Lake, which could account for the 2008 sighting, and now with three or four birds calling, this could actually be a breeding population,” Soehren said. “It’s too early to presume that because we haven’t followed up further yet, to find evidence of breeding, but it’s certainly a possibility.”

He also said that one of the possibilities for why the birds have ventured out of their region more regularly of late, is because of the severe drought in Florida last year.

Soehren said that Gantt Lake’s towering Cypress trees draped in moss, submergent vegetation and the Apple Snails are very similar to the bird’s habitat in central Florida.

Soehren said that birdwatchers from all over the South have flocked to Gantt Lake to get a glimpse of the Limpkins outside of its typical habitat.

“When things like this happen it could be a real boost economically to communities because people are willing to travel long distances to come and investigate these types of things,” he said.

Seohren said that it is also very important that potential birdwatchers respect private property, which surrounds Gantt Lake, and that people don’t trespass on anyone’s property to try and see or hear the Limpkins.

“There is a public boat launch for those with boats or kayaks, to try and see the birds that way,” Soehren said. “There is also a public road that comes from the South called Sims Bridge Road, that leads to the Conecuh River right before it spills into the lake. The birds have been spotted there, too.”

The best times to hear the birds calling, according to Soehren, are the early mornings and late afternoons.