Pretty in Purple
Purple Gallinules are one of the shyer creatures of our wetlands, and to spy one is a fun and colorful event. Even if you’re a sly watcher and/or photographer, they’ll quickly flit into the dense marsh vegetation when they sense your presence…. It’s ironic, being as shy as they are, with such bold coloring. But it’s always a joy to spy these purple, blue, and green gems — especially so for me, as they’re all my favorite colors, wrapped up into one bright little bird.
These lovely creatures live in the freshwater marshes of the southeastern United States, as well as in Central America and the Caribbean — although they have turned up in the northern states and southern Canada, and even in parts of Europe and South Africa. There’s no mistaking this medium-sized rail, with its purple-blue plumage, green back, pale blue forehead, white undertail (of which I’ve caught more than one glimpse), bright red and yellow bill, and long yellow feet. The juveniles sport blander, brown colorations. The gallinules’ huge legs make them awkward fliers, so short bursts of activity are their mode of transportation — or swimming like a duck if they’re not navigating the marsh with those dangling legs. They nest in floating constructs in the mashes (although I haven’t spotted many — they’re quite well hidden), laying 5-10 eggs.
The Purple Gallinule is omnivorous, eating the seeds, leaves, fruits, and grains of both aquatic and terrestrial plants; they also enjoy insects, frogs, snails, spiders, earthworms, fish, and even the eggs and young of other birds. When I see them in our wetlands, they’re often alone, nestled in the vegetation and cackling away — or being chased by other birds, most often by their sister species the Common Moorhen.