Living Bird Magazine
Common GallinuleGallinula galeata
- ORDER: Gruiformes
- FAMILY: Rallidae
The Common Gallinule swims like a duck and walks atop floating vegetation like a rail with its long and slender toes. This boldly marked rail has a brilliant red shield over the bill and a white racing stripe down its side. It squawks and whinnies from thick cover in marshes and ponds from Canada to Chile, peeking in and out of vegetation. This species was formerly called the Common Moorhen and is closely related to moorhen species in the Old World.More ID Info
Find This Bird
The Common Gallinule is most likely to make its presence known vocally first, but don't worry, this rail is easier to see than most. Listen for a strange clucking and whinnying coming from thick marsh vegetation and start scanning the edges. It often peeks in and out of vegetation, either walking atop vegetation or swimming along the edge. It may also forage alongside American Coots in open water—its red shield sticking out like a sore thumb.
- Gallineta Americana (Spanish)
- Gallinule d'Amérique (French)
- Cool Facts
- The Common Gallinule has long toes that make it possible to walk on soft mud and floating vegetation. The toes have no lobes or webbing to help with swimming, but the gallinule is a good swimmer anyway.
- Newly hatched Common Gallinule chicks have spurs on their wings that help them climb into the nest or grab onto vegetation.
- One subspecies of the Common Gallinule is found only in the Hawaiian Islands and is often called the Hawaiian Gallinule, or alae ula, where it is an endangered species. According to Hawaiian mythology the alae ula brought fire to humans, and its forehead was scorched in the process.
- Common Gallinules expanded their range northward during the twentieth century. They started breeding in Pennsylvania for the first time in 1904; now they breed as far north as the Maritime Provinces of Canada.
- Common Gallinules build nests to raise their young, but they also build platforms of matted vegetation to display for potential mates.
- The oldest recorded Common Gallinule was at least 9 years, 10 months old when it was recaptured in Louisiana in 1940, during some of the very earliest banding studies in the U.S.