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Overview

Distribution

Purple swamphens are native to the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australasia. They have been introduced to Florida. In Europe, purple swamphens live in the Atlantic and Mediterranean basins where there are suitable lagoons, rivers, and other wetlands. There are 13 recognized subspecies of purple swamphen.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); australian (Native ); oceanic islands (Native )

  • Balasubramaniam, S., P. Guay. 2008. Purple Swamphens (Porphyrio porphyrio) Attempting to Prey upon Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) Eggs and Preying upon a Cygnet on an Urban Lake in Melbourne, Australia. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 120 (3): 633-635.
  • Celdran, J., F. Polo, V. Peinado, G. Viscor, J. Palomeque. 1994. Haematology of captive herons, egrets, spoonbill, ibis and gallinule. Comparative Biochemical Physiology, 107A: 337-341.
  • Pacheco, C., P. McGregor. 2004. Conservation of the purple gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio L.) in Portugal: causes of decline, recovery and expansion. Biological Conservation, 119: 115-120.
  • Sanchez-Lafuente, A., P. Rey, F. Valera, J. Munoz-Cobo. 1992. Past and current distribution of the purple swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio L. in the Iberian Peninsula. Biological Conservation, 61: 23-30.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Purple swamphens are large members of the rail family (Rallidae). Males are larger than females, males average 1,050 g and females 850 g. They are chicken-sized birds with dark, shiny indigo or purple feathers and red bills and frontal shields. Although plumage color varies regionally, in general their backs and wings are dark green, brown or black with a green sheen and their breasts and heads are from pale blue to purple blue. Their tails are short, and they have bright white feathers on the undersides of their tails. Their legs are long, scaly, and orange-red.

Range mass: 850 to 1050 g.

Average length: 51 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour This species is sedentary, nomadic or partially migratory, with many populations making local seasonal movements in response to changing habitat conditions (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (e.g. the drying of marshes) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). The timing of breeding varies geographically (in relation to peaks in local rainfall) (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It breeds in solitary territorial pairs (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998) (especially in pastures) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998) or in small communal groups containing several breeding males, breeding females and non-breeding helpers (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998) (especially in swamps) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). When not breeding the species occurs in pairs, small groups of 12 or more individuals (Africa) or in larger congregations of 50 to several hundred individuals (India and New Zealand) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). The species is mainly crepuscular and forages in the early-morning and late-evening (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Habitat It shows a preference for permanent, fresh or brackish, still or slow-flowing, sheltered, extensive wetlands (del Hoyo et al. 1996) with floating mats of water-lilies (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), tall, dense emergent vegetation (e.g. reeds Phragmites spp., Typha spp., sedge Carex spp., papyrus Cyperus spp. (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998), Scirpus spp. or Eleocharis spp. (Taylor and van Perlo 1998)), muddy or sandy shorelines and patches of shallow water (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It may however occur in saline, eutrophic or turbid wetlands, and may be found on small waters and seasonal or temporary wetlands (e.g. in Africa) (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Suitable habitats include ponds, lakes, dams, marshes, swamps, rivers, flood-plains, artesian wells, sewage farms (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and wet rice-fields (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). The species also extends into open habitats adjacent to wetlands including grasslands, agricultural land, parks, gardens, hedgerows and forest margins (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Diet Its diet consists predominantly of plant matter including shoots, leaves, roots, stems, flowers and seeds (e.g. of Typha spp., Scripus spp., rice, grasses, sedges, Rumex spp., Polygonum spp., water-lilies (del Hoyo et al. 1996), clover Trifolium spp., fern Salvonia repens, bananas, tapioca and yam Dioscorea spp. (Taylor and van Perlo 1998)). It also takes animal matter including molluscs, leeches, small crustaceans (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (Isopods, Amphipods and crabs) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), adult and larval insects (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (Coleoptera, grasshoppers, Hemiptera, Diptera, Lepidoptera) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), earthworms (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), spiders, fish and fish eggs, frogs and frog spawn, lizards (del Hoyo et al. 1996), water snakes Natrix maura (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), adult birds, bird eggs and nestlings, small rodents and carrion (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding site The nest is a shallow cup in a large substantial structure of vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1996) built on a platform of vegetation floating on or standing in shallow water (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998) 30-120 cm deep (Taylor and van Perlo 1998) and concealed in thick vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Management information There is evidence that the application of rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus control measures may lead to an increase in nest predation on this species by rabbit-specialising predators (New Zealand) (Haselmayer and Jamieson 2001).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
  • Marine
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Purple swamphens live in freshwater and brackish wetlands containing plenty of emergent vegetation. The vegetation often includes reedmace (Typha), sedges (Carex), and reeds (Phragmites). They prefer marshes and swamps with consistent water levels. They can also be found in pastures and disturbed areas. They spend most of their lives on the ground and are not interested in forests.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams; coastal ; brackish water

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

Other Habitat Features: agricultural ; riparian ; estuarine

  • Freifeld, H., D. Steadman, J. Sailer. 2001. Landbirds on offshore islands in Samoa. Journal of Field Ornithology, 72 (1): 72-85.
  • Jamieson, I. 1988. Provisioning behavior in a communal breeder: an epigenetic approach to the study of individual variation in behavior. Behavior, 104 (3-4): 262-279.
  • Jamieson, I. 1997. Testing reproductive skew models in a communally breeding birds, the pukeko, Porphyrio porphyrio . Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 264: 335-340.
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Trophic Strategy

Purple swamphens eat vegetable matter and small animal prey. They eat the bulbs of Scirpus plants and browse on the shoots of marsh grasses and reeds. Animal prey is usually arthropods and other invertebrates, such as snails, although they occasionally take vertebrate prey, including fish, birds, and lizards. When they eat birds, they generally eat eggs, nestlings, and juveniles. They have been recorded preying on passerines and waterfowl, including teal, swans, and ducks. They also swallow grit, like sand or other sediment, to help their gizzards grind up their food. They sometimes lift food to their mouths with their feet, rather than eating it on the ground.

Animal Foods: birds; amphibians; reptiles; fish; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers

Primary Diet: omnivore

  • Gomez, G., R. Baos, B. Gomara, B. Jimenez, V. Benito, R. Montoro, F. Hiraldo, M. Gonzalez. 2004. Influence of a Mine Tailing Accident Near Donana National Park (Spain) on Heavy Metals and Arsenic Accumulation in 14 Species of Waterfowl (1998 to 2000). Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 47: 521-529.
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Associations

Purple swamphens are important predators of marsh invertebrates and impact marsh communities through their predation and browsing.

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Purple swamphens are one of New Zealand’s most successful bird species because they have appropriate responses to terrestrial mammalian predators. New Zealand has no native terrestrial predators, so many native New Zealand birds are very vulnerable to predation by introduced mammalian predators. One of their responses to predators is to physically attack the predator. They also use wing flapping, calls, and flashing their white rump patches to alert conspecifics to the presence of a predator and disturb the predator itself.

Purple swamphens use a conspicuous rump patch to signal their awareness of a predator’s proximity. To call attention to the patch, they flick their tails up and down rapidly. Interestingly, it appears the signal is not meant to alarm other swamphens as much as it is meant to tell the predator it’s been spotted. If the prey communicates its awareness of the predator’s presence, the predator may be less likely to attempt a pursuit. Also, purple swamphens have been noted to signal their awareness less when they are closer to cover. This may be due to decreased vigilance or to the lower visibility of the signal when the swamphen is close to cover.

Sometimes purple swamphens form groups to mob stoats and rats. The shrieking calls they emit during these hunts are called “blue murder” by overhearing humans. When not attacking, they will flee.

Known Predators:

  • marsh harriers (Circus aeruginosus)
  • Australasian harriers (Circus approximans)
  • stoats (Mustela erminea)
  • rats (Rattus species)

  • Alvarez, F. 1993. Alertness signalling in two rail species. Animal Behavior, 46: 1229-1231.
  • Bunin, J., I. Jamieson. 1996. Responses to a Model Predator of New Zealand's Endangered Takahe and Its Closest Relative, the Pukeko. Conservation Biology, 10 (5): 1463-1466.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Purple swamphens communicate visually and with vocalizations. Their calls are varied, including their shrieking warning and attack calls and their hummed courtship calls. They also use a flash of their white rumps to tell predators they’ve been spotted.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

There is little information on lifespan in purple swamphens in the literature. In New Zealand the oldest recorded pukeho was 9 years old. The related American species, Porphyrio martinica, has been recorded living up to 22 years in the wild.

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Reproduction

Purple swamphens use a variety of mating systems, ranging from monogamous mating to communal mating. In communal mating, two breeding females share one nest and are fertilized by several males. In addition to the parents, non-breeding helpers of both sexes help raise the young. These groups generally contain 6 to 9 birds and the helpers are usually close kin to the breeders. Dominance hierarchies in these groups exist and there is generally a dominant female that breeds the most. Some populations of purple swamphens are monogamous. The full range of mating systems can be found in other populations, including smaller social breeding arrangements consisting of 1 or 2 females, 1 or several males, and helpers at the nest or not.

Courtship in New Zealand populations begins in late July and continues until early December. Males use an elaborate courtship display where they hold reeds in their bill, bow, and emit a chuckling vocalization. Preening is a common behavior, and it is often invited by one bird preening and bowing while another approaches. Courtship feeding occurs more often in communal settings than in pairs. Copulation could be initiated by a bird giving a humming call or by the male chasing her. Copulation within communal settings involves every type of pairing possible, including heterosexual, homosexual, and multiple participants. Group mating activity appears to have a function in synchronizing all the birds’ sexual cycles, thus allowing clutches to be laid and hatched simultaneously. Birds nesting in exclusive pairs copulate less than those in communal settings.

Mating System: monogamous ; polyandrous ; polygynous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous) ; cooperative breeder

Males become sexually mature when they are three years old. They mate with the two oldest and most dominant females in their group. Two to seven breeding males are possible in one communal breeding group. Young from previous seasons may be present to help with rearing the young. Both sexes of parents, but not sexually immature helpers, incubate the eggs. If a helper is old enough to breed but didn’t, it may help incubate near the end of the incubation period. Because of this system, yearling birds encounter their first hatchlings while under the supervision of more experienced birds. Non-breeders two or three years old have already had at least one year experience with young, and the parents themselves have had three or more years experience raising young. It appears raising chicks is partly a learned behavior, since non-breeders observe and learn how to provision the young. They build nests out of grass and tussock and sometimes both breeding females lay in the same nest. Neither female attempts to damage the other female’s eggs. The eggs hatch within four days of each other and the hatchlings are ready to leave the nest after about two days. They are brooded for a week and parents and helpers feed them until they are about ten weeks old. Breeding groups often attempt a second brood in a season, but these broods are not often successful.

Males build several nests. The ones built early in the season appear to be practice nests, as they are poorly constructed and lack a well-shaped bowl. They use stems of Typha and Juncus and tussocks of Carex and Cyperus. Nests are protected by a canopy of plants and are accessible by a ramp. After hatching, males then construct new nests specifically for brooding. Nests made of Typha are preferred for this purpose. Brood nests are often abandoned in favor of ones built nearer feeding sites.

Females usually lay their eggs around dawn. Females sharing a nest typically lay their eggs on the same days. Clutches are laid between mid August and mid February. Most breeders lay one or two clutches per season, but if a clutch is lost, extra clutches will be laid to make up for it. Each female will lay 3 to 6 eggs per clutch, with up to 12 eggs in a communal nest. Dominant females lay at least one egg more than submissive females when in communal settings. Incubation begins when half the clutch is laid, so individual eggs will end up hatching between 23 and 29 days after being laid. Hatching occurs over a two to three day interval. Only adults incubate, and females incubate more than males. In communal settings, the dominant female incubates the most. Interestingly, in group settings females will incubate most often during the day and allow males to concentrate on defense. Males are better at defense and incubate at night, when they aren’t needed for protection. In pair settings, this division of labor is difficult to implement and nest defense is not as effective.

Breeding interval: Purple swamphens have one breeding season per year and produce 1 or 2 clutches at that time.

Breeding season: Breeding varies with region, coinciding with spring.

Range eggs per season: 3 to 6.

Range time to hatching: 23 to 29 days.

Average time to independence: 2 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Purple swamphens generally have help when raising young. Monogamous pairs are often assisted by the young they’ve raised from earlier broods. Promiscuous mating groups all help each other. Also, both of the above groups may receive aid from non-breeders of either sex and different ages. When young hatch they are nidifugous and precocial. During the hatching period, one parent will sit on the nest and the hatched chick(s) while others bring food to feed the sitter or the young. Within three days new hatchlings are led away from the nest and fed elsewhere, sometimes on floating platforms of aquatic vegetation. Hatchlings begin to eat on their own after two days, but are still fed by adults until they are two months old. Hatchlings learn to stay close to cover and whenever a predator is spotted adults rush to protect the young. In pair territories, the young become independent earlier because their parents re-nest and hand over care to helpers.

Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents

  • Craig, J. 1980. Pair and group breeding behavior of a communal gallinule, the pukeko, (Porphyrio p. melanotus). Animal Behavior, 28: 593-603.
  • Jamieson, I. 1988. Provisioning behavior in a communal breeder: an epigenetic approach to the study of individual variation in behavior. Behavior, 104 (3-4): 262-279.
  • Jamieson, I. 1997. Testing reproductive skew models in a communally breeding birds, the pukeko, Porphyrio porphyrio . Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 264: 335-340.
  • Jamieson, I., J. Craig. 1987. Male-Male and Female-Female Courtship and Copulation Behavior in a Communally Breeding Bird. Animal Behavior, 35 (4): 1251-1253.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Porphyrio porphyrio

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 2 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

ACTCTATCTCATCTTCGGCGCATGGGCCGGCATAATTGGCACCGCTCTCAGCCTTCTTATCCGAGCAGAGCTCGGACAGCCCGGCAGCCTATTAGGGGATGACCAAATCTACAATGTAATTGTCACCGCACATGCCTTTGTAATAATCTTTTTTATAGTAATACCAGTCATAATCGGCGGATTTGGCAACTGATTAGTACCCTTAATAATCGGAGCCCCAGACATGGCATTCCCACGCATAAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTCCTTCCCCCATCCTTCCTACTACTACTAGCATCCTCCACAGTAGAAGCAGGGGCGGGCACAGGCTGAACAGTCTACCCCCCACTAGCAGGCAACCTAGCCCACGCAGGAGCCTCAGTAGATCTAGCTATCTTCTCCCTCCATCTAGCAGGTGTCTCATCCATTCTAGGTGCCATCAACTTCATTACAACTGCCATCAACATAAAACCACCTGCTCTGTCCCAATACCAAACCCCCTTATTCGTATGATCCGTACTAATCACCGCAGTCTTGCTACTGCTATCACTCCCAGTACTTGCCGCAGGCATCACCATACTACTAACCGACCGAAACCTAAACACTACATTCTTCGACCCTGCTGGCGGAGGAGATCCAATCCTATATCAACACCTC
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Porphyrio porphyrio

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 17
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2015

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (extent of occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend is not known, but the population is not believed to be decreasing sufficiently rapidly to approach the thresholds under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • 2012
    Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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