Clearly related to the coot, common moorhen, and the recently imported European bird, purple swamp hen, the purple gallinule is a member of the rail family of birds. Other members of that family include the sora, clapper, and king rail.
Although common throughout the state in the summer months, most of the northern birds head toward the Everglades and the southern end of the peninsula during the winter months, making it an intra-state migrant. Some of the best places to view this attractive bird are on the Anhinga Trail in the Everglades and throughout the numerous overgrown canals and marshes of Glades and Hendry counties. The purple gallinule is an inland and mainland species and is only rarely observed along the barrier islands of Florida. The species has an extensive range throughout Central and South America, where it can be found as far south as Argentina.
The purple gallinule is one of the most colorful and beautiful of all the birds of Florida. Its rich, iridescent purple plumage contrasts with its bright, candy-corn colored beak. The purple gallinule is equipped with extremely large, bright yellow feet that allow it to forage atop lily pads and other floating vegetation. There it feeds primarily on seeds, leaves, insects, frogs, snails, spiders, and fish and has even been known to feed on the eggs of other marsh-nesting birds such as redwing blackbirds and ducks.
Photo by Judd Peterson
This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast-A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry's and your favorite online sites.
In the Know:
Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica)
Other names: blue peter, mud hen, pond chicken
bonnet-walker, purple swamphen (European species)
Status: FL = stable, IUCN = LC
Length: 14.2-14.6 in. (36-37 cm)
Wingspan: 21.7 in. (55 cm)
Weight: 7.3-10.2 oz (208-288 g)
Life span: to 22 years
Nests: in mainland SW Florida
Found: All Counties, near coast, mainland
Months found: JFmamjjaSOND (lower case indicates nesting season).