The Purple Swamphen

Alex Lamoreaux|

Last spring, while I was on a three month study abroad trip to South Africa, I saw my lifer Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio). It was standing, partially hidden by reeds, in a large wetland area in Wilderness National Park. The bird noticed me and ran off across the water, trying to vanish into the reeds on the far side of the shallow stream. I couldn’t believe my eyes – the bird was big, like grouse-sized only with really long legs and long toes; and was as colorful as a Purple Gallinule. This massive relative of the coots was accidentally introduced into southeastern Florida in the early 1990’s. Escapes from aviculturalists resulted in a sizeable population forming in the swamps and wetlands around Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Purple Swamphen - dark-headed madagascariensis race (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Earlier this month I was finally able to visit the area around Miami where Purple Swamphens were introduced, and was able to find them at Chapel Nature Trail in Broward County, FL. As soon as my friends and I arrived, we spotted one swamphen foraging in the reeds. It flushed up and landed a little farther away, right next to a second swamphen! One of the first things I noticed about the two birds was that the head and neck of these individuals was a pale blue, almost gray color. The bird I saw in South Africa had a darker blue head, not much different in color than the bird’s back. I had heard that this species had at least two subspecies – one light-headed and one dark-headed, but I didn’t realize it was so drastic. After a little more research, it turns out there are at least 13 subspecies of the Purple Swamphen! The darker-headed race I saw in South Africa was P. p. madagascariensis, and the bird’s in Florida are of the P. p. poliocephalus race. The P. p. poliocephalus race naturally occurs in the Caspian Sea area. Check out the following photos I took of the two races…..

Purple Swamphen - dark-headed madagascariensis race (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Purple Swamphen - light-headed poliocephalus race (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Purple Swamphen - dark-headed madagascariensis race (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Purple Swamphen - light-headed poliocephalus race (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Purple Swamphen - light-headed poliocephalus race (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

About the Author

Alex Lamoreaux

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Alex Lamoreaux has been an avid birder and naturalist since he was a youngster, growing up exploring the farmland and Appalachian ridges near Hershey, Pennsylvania. He attended Penn State University, studying wildlife biology. Alex has traveled extensively throughout North America, Central America, and South Africa and is a freelance nature tour guide, field biologist, and wildlife photographer. Alex has worked on wildlife research projects ranging from Whimbrel migration along the coast of Virginia to Yellow-billed Cuckoo nesting in the desert southwest. He has been the migration counter at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory for the past two fall seasons, documenting the massive visible migration of raptors and songbirds along Lake Superior. Alex loves to share his knowledge of nature, and strives to bring the birding community together to share in the fun that studying birds and wildlife has to offer. He has helped to organize and coordinate birding events in his home state of Pennsylvania and beyond. Contact Info Alex Lamoreaux aslamoreaux@gmail.com (717) 943-7086