Skip to main content

Common Gallinule Life History



Common Gallinules use freshwater and brackish marshes, ponds, and lakes that have a mix of submerged, floating, and emergent aquatic vegetation and are open water year-round. They also use artificial aquaculture ponds, rice fields, sewage lagoons, and urban stormwater retention ponds.

Back to top



Common Gallinules eat vegetation, seeds, snails, and insects. They pick sedge, grass, pondweed, duckweed, and flower seeds from the water surface or just below the surface. Gallinules flip over leaves with their feet to grab snails and insects hidden below.

Back to top


Nest Placement


Common Gallinules nest in marshes, lakes, and ponds with emergent vegetation. They tend to build nests on top of thick mats of aquatic plants near the water's edge, but sometimes nest in trees or shrubs.

Nest Description

Males and females construct a wide bowl of grasses and sedges. Males tend to collect most of the nesting material while females arrange and anchor it to emergent vegetation near the water's edge. Common Gallinule nests are around 10–12 inches wide.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-15 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:1.5-2.1 in (3.9-5.3 cm)
Egg Width:1.1-1.4 in (2.8-3.5 cm)
Incubation Period:19-22 days
Egg Description:

Light gray with darker scattered specks and spots.

Condition at Hatching:

Eyes open and covered in blackish down.

Back to top



The long-toed Common Gallinule walks atop floating vegetation and soft soils in a crouched position while slowly flicking its tail up. Seldom do you see them fly, but when they do, their flight is labored. They stride through water pumping their head forward with tail held horizontally and wings held up over the back. During the breeding season, they are territorial and generally associate only with their family group, but during the winter they forage in groups often with American Coots and ducks. Common Gallinules can form long-lasting pairs, but sometimes males mate with more than one female. Females may occasionally share a mate and a nest with their daughter and cooperatively raise the offspring. Young birds that have not found a mate of their own sometimes help their parents brood and feed nestlings.

Back to top


Low Concern

Common Gallinules are common, but their populations declined by nearly 1.5% per year between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, resulting in a cumulative decline of 52%. The species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means it is not on the Partners in Flight Watch List and is a species of low conservation concern. The Hawaiian subspecies is endangered in Hawaii due to habitat loss and predation by introduced predators such as rats, mongoose, cats, and dogs. Threats to Common Gallinules in North America are not well known. In some areas loss of wetland habitat may threaten them, but in other areas populations have grown, taking advantage of newly created marshy areas such as retention ponds and rice fields. In North America Common Gallinules are hunted in several states, but the impacts due to hunting are unclear because available hunting data lump Purple and Common Gallinule species together.

Back to top


Bannor, Brett K. and Erik Kiviat. (2002). Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love (2016). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2016.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Back to top

Learn more at Birds of the World