Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)

Author: Bibitayo Ayobami, Owolabi. Department of Wildlife and Ecotourism Management. Osun State University, Osogbo, Nigeria. bibitayo.owolabi@uniosun.edu.ng. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0136-6720

Description

The Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), also known as the African Purple Swamphen, Purple Moorhen, Purple Gallinule or Purple Coot, is a large bird in the family Rallidae (rails). Purple Swamphen is a bluish-purple plumage, glossed metallic on the throat and breast, contrasting with the white underside of the tail, and obvious red bill, frontal shield and legs Borrow & Demey (2010).

Figure 1: Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) in a wetland feeding. (Photos: B. Owolabi).

Ecology

The species has a wide range of distribution. Purple Swamphens are thought to be the ancestors of several species. This species has only lately established itself where closely similar species have gone extinct or decreased owing to human intervention. The species has a very loud explosive call described as a “raucous high-pitched screech, with a subdued musical tuk-tuk“. It is particularly noisy during the breeding season. Despite being clumsy in flight it can fly long distances, and it is a good swimmer.

Breeding

Purple Swamphens are mostly seasonal breeders, mating during the wettest months of the year. Purple Swamphens nest in reed beds that are warm. The male puts on a show for the female, holding water weeds in his bill and bowing with loud giggles. Monogamy is more widespread in the western regions of the range, whilst cooperative breeding groups are more common in the eastern. Multiple females and males share a nest, or a male-female pair with helpers gathered from previous clutches, make up these groups. The pairs nest in a huge pad of interwoven reed flags floating above water level. Multiple females may share incubation tasks and lay in the same nest. Each bird can lay 3–6 speckled eggs that range in color from pale yellowish stone to reddish buff, with reddish brown blotches and spots. Up to 12 eggs might be found in a communal nest. The incubation period is 23–27 days, and both sexes, as well as any assistance present, participate. The precocious chicks have downy black feathers and are able to leave the nest shortly after hatching, but they often stay for a few days. Parents feed their young chicks.

Diet and Feeding

The Purple Swamphen prefers wet areas with high rainfall, swamps, lake edges and damp pastures. The birds often live in pairs and larger communities. It clambers through the reeds, eating the tender shoots and vegetable-like matter.

They have been known to eat eggs, ducklings, small fish and invertebrates such as snails. They will often use one foot to bring food to their mouth rather than eat it on the ground.

Status and Conservation

The species is considered to be Least Concern globally by the IUCN.

References

Bibitayo A. Owolabi, O. Sunday Odewumi, J. Olayinka Olorunfemi & O. Adeola Oyebamiji (2019). Recent sightings of the Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio in Igboho, Southwest Nigeria. Malimbus Journal of Ornithological Researches volume 41 pp65-66.

Borrow, N. & Demey, R. (2010) Birds of Western Africa. Christopher Helm, London.

Elgood, J.H., Heigham, J.B., Moore, A.M., Nason, A.M., Sharland, R.E. & Skinner, N.J. (1994) The Birds of Nigeria. 2nd ed., British Ornithologists’ Union, Tring