Purple gallinule (Porphyrio martinica)
By Jan Baumgartner
The purple gallinule’s distinctive plumage is awash with its eponymous hue along with a range of vibrant blues and greens. Gallinules are included in the rail family of birds whose members are chicken-like marsh dwellers with short wings and tail and disproportionately long legs and toes. True to their rail heritage, the skittish gallinule strolls gingerly across floating vegetation while darting in and out of the thick cover of marsh grasses and brush. Despite the fact that its large feet are not webbed, the purple gallinule swims almost as deftly as a duck while bobbing its head to the beat of its own drum. The yellow-tipped red bill is akin to that of the common gallinule except for the forehead shield; the purple has a baby-blue shield while the common gallinule has a bright red one.
The purple gallinule’s flamboyant color palette blends surprisingly well with the surrounding tropical and subtropical scenery. This year-round resident of South Florida is a shy and secretive bird whom you may be lucky enough to spot in freshwater marshes near Siesta Key — marshes with dense stands of vegetation providing lots of places to hide.