Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

American purple gallinule, Yellow-legged gallinule

Porphyrio martinicus
Population size
100,000-1 M
Life Span
22 yrs
141-305 g
26-37 cm
50-61 cm

The Purple gallinule is a medium-sized swamphen native to the Americas. This beautifully colored bird belongs to the rail family that includes crakes, coots, and gallinules. An adult Purple gallinule has purple-blue plumage that will shine green and turquoise when in good lighting. Adults also have a pale blue shield on their forehead, which connects with the red and yellow bill. Darkness or low light can dim the bright purple-blue plumage of the adult to make them look dusky or brownish. Immature Purple gallinules are brown-bronze in color, with purple feathers on the chest, and the bill and forehead shield is pale in color. Juvenile birds are light brown with hints of green-bronze on the wings and back and white under-tail coverts. Adults have bright yellow legs and feet, immatures have brown-yellowish legs and feet, and juveniles have brown legs and feet.


During the breeding season, Purple gallinules are found in the southeastern states of the United States. They are resident species in southern Florida, the Gulf and Pacific coast of Mexico, parts of Central America, and the Caribbean. During the non-breeding season, they are found more inland in parts of Central America. They can also be found within South America during migration, and sometimes strays can be found as far north as Canada. Their habitat is freshwater marshes with dense stands of vegetation. They can also be found in lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and wet rice fields.

Purple Gallinule habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Purple gallinules are diurnal birds and outside of the breeding season prefer to spend time singly. They are not strong fliers and spend most of their time swimming, or walking across lilly pads and other floating vegetation. If disturbed they hide quickly undercover or run, swim, dive or fly away. These colorful birds are also able to climb marshy vegetation and in bushes. Purple gallinules produce squawking, cackling and guttural grunts. During the flight, they communicate with kek-kek-kek and when disturbed make keh-keh.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Purple gallinules are omnivorous birds. They consume a variety of plant and animal matter within their diet; these include seeds, leaves, and fruits of both aquatic and terrestrial plants, insects, frogs, snails, earthworms, and fish. Purple gallinules may also take the eggs and young of other bird species.

Mating Habits

North America: May-August, South America: March-November
18-20 days
9 weeks
5-10 eggs

Purple gallinules are monogamous and form long-lasting pair bonds. In North America, they breed in May-August, but in South America - from March to November. The courtship of Purple gallinules occurs when the birds of a pair have been separated and then wander close to one another. They then perform the principle display, which is performed by both sexes at the same time. The display entails the bird standing in a slightly bent forward position, with the neck outstretched. The wings are held at an almost right angle to the body and bent at the wrist, so that the primaries are angled down. Following the principle display, one or both of the birds will strut and cut across the path of the other with half-lowered wings, or they will make a deep bow as they approach each other. Purple gallinules nest in the dense vegetation along the shallow margins of lakes and marshes' shorelines. The nest is a cup-shaped floating structure built by both adults. The female lays between five and ten eggs that are buff or pale pink with brown and purple spots. The nest and territory are defended strongly by the breeding pair. Eggs are incubated with 18-20 days by both parents. Chicks are precocial; they are hatched with eyes open and are covered with black down. They are able to leave the nest within one day. The young are usually fed by both parents during the first week, and after that, they are able to find food themselves. Chicks are able to fly when they are around 9 weeks old.


Population threats

Purple gallinules are not globally threatened. However, populations of these birds are decreasing due to the loss of their wetland habitat, pesticides, and predation from alligators and turtles.

Population number

According to the What Bird resource, the total population size of the Purple gallinule is around 100,000-1,000,000 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The specific name of the Purple gallinule 'martinica' denotes "of Martinique", an insular region of France located in the eastern Caribbean Sea.
  • Purple gallinules have long legs with long toes that help them walk onto the floating vegetation, by distributing their weight. Specific adaptation of their toe also helps them to cling to plant stems.
  • When Purple gallinules fly, their legs hang down. They usually fly short distances.
  • Purple gallinule juveniles remain in their parents' territory and help care for newly hatched siblings.
  • When feeding, Purple gallinules often use their feet to hold food.
  • When young Purple gallinules learn to walk on floating vegetation, they hold their wings high in the air and if called by a parent, will rush across the pads quickly.


1. Purple Gallinule on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_purple_gallinule
2. Purple Gallinule on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22692827/93371309

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