Living Bird Magazine
Purple GallinulePorphyrio martinica
- ORDER: Gruiformes
- FAMILY: Rallidae
Lurking in the marshes of the extreme southeastern U.S. lives one of the most vividly colored birds in all of North America. Purple Gallinules combine cherry red, sky blue, moss green, aquamarine, indigo, violet, and school-bus yellow, a color palette that blends surprisingly well with tropical and subtropical wetlands. Watch for these long-legged, long-toed birds stepping gingerly across water lilies and other floating vegetation as they hunt frogs and invertebrates or pick at tubers.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Purple Gallinules in dense freshwater wetlands in the extreme southeastern U.S. and farther south—sites that have both emergent and submerged vegetation such as water lilies, lotus, water hyacinth, and hydrilla. They can be fairly easy to spot as they walk on floating vegetation. They’re also often present in rice fields, but can be harder to see among the tall stalks.
- Calamoncillo Americano (Spanish)
- Talève violacée (French)
Within the species’ range, a small pond or water feature could attract a Purple Gallinule, particularly if it has floating vegetation such as water lilies. Habitat Network has more about creating water features in your yard.
- Cool Facts
- Purple Gallinules are remarkable fliers and turn up far out of their normal range surprisingly often. They’ve even shown up in Iceland, Switzerland, South Georgia island, the Galápagos, and South Africa. A recent study noted that these may not be mere accidents: years with severe drought in the gallinule’s core range tended to produce more so-called vagrants in autumn and winter. In other words, these wanderers may not be lost but perhaps seeking places to feed because their usual haunts do not have adequate food.
- In the tropics, such as Panama and Costa Rica, Purple Gallinules often have multiple broods per year. In an unusual behavior for rails, the juvenile and immature birds from earlier nestings often assist parents with feeding and defending the new chicks and defending the family’s territory as well.
- Purple Gallinule chicks are “subprecocial,” meaning they can walk around soon after hatching but cannot feed themselves for the first few weeks of life. The chicks are equipped with a tiny claw at the end of their pollex (innermost digit, corresponding to a human thumb), which helps them grip vegetation as they move around their environment.
- The oldest recorded Purple Gallinule was at least 7 years, 4 months old when it was found in Florida in 1956. It had been banded there in 1950.