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Purple Gallinule

These birds are known for their vibrant plumage and strong yellow legs.

Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica) is a colorful, chicken-sized member of the rail family. Adults are deep sapphire blue and purple with a glossy green back, and have a stout bright red beak with a yellow tip.

A colorful, chicken-like bird in marsh habitats from South Carolina to Florida or Texas might be this species. If the bird has yellow legs and a red beak, you are definitely watching a Purple Gallinule!

Do you wonder where you can see Purple Gallinules? Learn all about this special bird in this article!



Purple Gallinules are medium-sized, chicken-like birds with fairly long, bright yellow legs. They also have long, yellow toes to help them clamber around grassy, marsh vegetation.

Adult Purple Gallinules have a deep blue and purplish head, neck, and underparts, and a glossy, dark green and bronze back and wings. In certain lighting, their upperparts can also appear to be purple or dark blue.

Purple Gallinule

Adult. © Sam Crowe

They also have a dark green or dark blue uppertail, and a bright white undertail. The head of the Purple Gallinule has a pale blue front, dark red-brown eyes, and a stout, bright red beak with a yellow tip.

Young Purple Gallinules in late summer and winter are pale brown with white on their bellies and pale olive and green on their wings and back. They also have dark eyes and a smaller, much dingier beak than adults.

Both sexes of the Purple Gallinule look the same and are around 13 inches long, have a 22 inch wingspan, and weigh 8 ounces. This species flies with rapidly beating, short wings. During flight, its long yellow legs and toes are an obvious field mark.



Male and female Purple Gallinules make a variety of odd honking and clucking notes.



Purple Gallinules eat a variety of plant matter, insects, and other small animals. For the most part, they feed on the tubers, fruits, and seeds of aquatic vegetation. These can include water lilies, wild plantain, water hyacinth, rice grains, and other plants.

To eat rice and other seeds, Purple Gallinules climb up and perch on the stalk as they pick off the grains. They also clamber around bushes and other vegetation to reach berries and other bits of food. When they find a seed pod, these marsh birds use their beaks to peck and create an opening and then pick out the unripe seed.

Purple Gallinule

They use this same strategy to get at the soft plant matter inside tubers, stems, and other parts of plants. While they forage for tubers and seeds, Purple Gallinules also keep an eye out for small snails, insects, and other feeding opportunities.

As these birds walk on lily pads and other floating vegetation, they lift up leaves to look for small aquatic creatures hiding underneath.

If they see a bird nest, Purple Gallinules can eat an egg or two. They have also been known to attack, kill, and eat nestlings of other bird species like grackles and even Snowy Egrets.


Nesting and Eggs

In the southeastern USA, Purple Gallinules arrive back to the breeding grounds in April and start building nests in May. Both sexes help construct a loose, cup-shaped platform nest made of grass, sedges, and other bits of vegetation. They can build their nest on floating vegetation, or in emergent vegetation near or high above the water.

Nest structure can also vary with some having a bit of roof and others having a ramp leading to the nest. On average, most nests are 11 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches deep.

Once the nest is done, the female Purple Gallinule lays 6 to 8 pale, cream-colored eggs with red-brown speckling. On average, the eggs are 1.6 inches long and weigh .5 ounces each.

Each parent helps incubate the eggs for a little bit longer than three weeks. After hatching, both parents bring their babies insects and other small creatures. Around a week later, the nestlings find some of their own food and, by three weeks of age, can obtain all of their food on their own.

However, the young birds still beg their parents for food until they are around 7 to 8 weeks old. After that time, they become totally independent.


Current Situation

In North America, the Purple Gallinule is an uncommon to locally common species in grassy, freshwater marshes. They especially like wetlands with floating vegetation and breed in the southeastern USA north to Arkansas and South Carolina. Most migrate south for the winter, but birds in Florida are permanent residents. This species also ranges from Mexico to Argentina.

The Purple Gallinule is listed as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List and is a locally common bird.

Purple Gallinule in flight

Purple Gallinules have a very large range. Locally, they can be affected by destruction and drainage of wetland habitats, and are hunted in some places. Pesticide spraying in rice fields can also poison Purple Gallinules in some regions.

However, despite such threats, this is an adaptable species that occurs in many places. In general, Purple Gallinules are pretty easy to see and are not considered to be threatened.



  • Purple Gallinules like to eat plaintain stems, flowers, and fruit. For this reason, in Jamaica and some other parts of the Caribbean, this species is known as the “Plantain Coot.”
  • In common with some other rail species, despite their short wings, Purple Gallinules can wander quite far from home. They routinely turn up far north of their usual range and have even been found as far away as Switzerland and South Africa! This bird and other rails are prone to wandering because they have to move between wetland habitats that frequently shift or dry out.
  • Purple Gallinule pairs often build four different nests! However, they only choose one to nest in. It’s not known why they do this but those extra empty nests might act as decoys to distract predators from the real one.
  • Purple Gallinule babies have a small claw on the front part of each wing. This adaptation helps them hold onto and move through their dense marsh grass home.


Similar Species

The Purple Gallinule is an easy bird to recognize. However, it is sometimes confused with a couple of other species.


Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinules have the same shape as Purple Gallinules and occur in the same marsh habitats. However, its dark gray, dark brown, and blackish plumage isn’t nearly as colorful. Common Gallinules also have greenish legs, a white stripe on their flanks, and a black mark under their tail.


American Coot

American coot

Adult American Coots have blackish plumage and a white beak. They also do a lot more swimming than the Purple Gallinule, and never have colorful, nor pale brown plumage.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Purple Gallinule rare?

No, the Purple Gallinule is a fairly common bird. However, sometimes, it can be hard to see in its dense marshy habitat.

Where can I see Purple Gallinule?

You can see Purple Gallinule in freshwater marshes in Florida and Texas north to parts of Arkansas and South Carolina. Thet also live in the Caribbean and Mexico south to Argentina.

Are Purple Gallinule native to Florida?

Yes, Purple Gallinules are native to Florida. They are common birds of freshwater marshes throughout the state.

What is another name for the Purple Gallinule?

Another name for Purple Gallinule is “American Purple Gallinule”, and “Purple Swamphen”.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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