- ORDER: Gruiformes
- FAMILY: Rallidae
Looking like an oversized version of a Purple Gallinule with a massive red bill, the Gray-headed Swamphen is an impressive bird and the largest rail in North America. Originally from southern Asia, it became established in southern Florida in the mid-1990s when birds escaped from captivity and began breeding. Like gallinules, this species forages in marshes by wading, swimming, and even climbing to reach aquatic vegetation, insects, and animal prey. Swamphens are aggressive competitors and may dominate or displace our native North American rails.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Finding a Gray-headed Swamphen is relatively easy in southern Florida, as the species is brightly colored, large, and often forages in the open in predictable locations, including urban areas. Look for them in stormwater treatment, water conservation, and agricultural areas where wetlands and other low-lying sites have been altered.
- Calamón Cabecigrís (Spanish)
- Talève à tête grise (French)
- Cool Facts
- In 2006–2008, several Florida agencies attempted to reduce the population of Gray-headed Swamphens because of their negative impacts on native species. They removed 3,187 swamphens but this culling did not have a significant impact on the state’s rapidly increasing population, which has spread into northern Florida since the program ceased in 2008.
- Florida’s wild swamphen population began with a release of captive birds, but the number and origin of these birds are unclear. Officials aren’t even sure if the original swamphens were all Gray-headed Swamphens or may have included other swamphen species.
- Gray-headed Swamphens may creep around marshes most of their lives, but they also have a strong capacity for dispersal, especially during times of drought. So far, Gray-headed Swamphens have shown up as far away as Georgia, South Carolina, and Bermuda.