Purple Gallinule

Porphyrio martinica

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 2002
  • Richard L. West and Gene K. Hess

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Purple Gallinule.

Distribution of the Purple Gallinule in North and Middle America and the western West Indies. This species also breeds in South America. See text for details.

Adult Purple Gallinule

; photographer William L. Newton

Clearly the most colorful of our rails, the Purple Gallinule is among the most gaudy breeding birds in North America. Richly colored with deep blue, green, and purple and trimmed with red, yellow, and sky blue, this fresh-water wetland species has proven adaptable to habitat modification, thriving in rice (Oryza sativa) paddies and in human-made impoundments on plantations and wildlife refuges. It readily accepts weedy conditions brought on by eutrophication and feeds on exotic weeds such as water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata).

The Purple Gallinule migrates for both austral and boreal breeding, with a resident tropical population, yet has no recognized subspecies. Highly prone to vagrancy, individuals have been recorded from Labrador to South Georgia and from Switzerland to the Galápagos. This vagrancy trait may make it an effective pioneer to new wetlands as far north as Illinois. It is known in North America as a single-brooded migrant, yet in resident populations, which can raise more than one brood a year, the young from one brood help feed those of the next. The presence of an unstudied resident population in central and south Florida makes studies done on nonmigratory birds in Central America particularly interesting.

This species is possibly the least frequently taken game bird in North America; its season starts after the bulk of the individuals depart.

It has a reputation of being unpalatable, but those taken in rice fields of Louisiana and South America are considered an epicurean feast when served on a bed of rice.

Key life-history studies, instigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in recognition that little was known about this seldom-hunted game species, are described in unpublished master's theses (Bell 1976, Reagan 1977, Helm 1982, Matthews 1983b, Mulholland 1983). Studies focused on cooperative breeding were conducted on a nonmigratory population in Costa Rica (Krekorian 1978; Hunter Hunter 1985a, Hunter 1985b, Hunter 1986, Hunter 1987a, Hunter 1987b). A nest in Ohio, the northernmost nest ever reported, was carefully observed, and that serendipitous study adds an important northern perspective to the data provided in other, mainly Central American, studies (Trautman and Glines 1964). The remaining published information is scattered and mainly anecdotal.

Recommended Citation

West, R. L. and G. K. Hess (2002). Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.626