African Purple Swamphens
The African Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio p. madagascariensis [Latham, 1801] or Porphyrio porphyrio) was previously known as African Purple Gallinule.
Distribution / Range:
This African rail is native to Egypt, sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar.
The African Purple Swamphen look like the nominate Purple Swamphen but with bronze green or green-blue back and scapulars (shoulder feathers). This chicken-sized bird, with its huge feet, bright plumage and red bill and frontal shield is unmistakable in its native range.
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, especially for a bird without webbed feet.
The Purple Swamphens are generally seasonal breeders, but the season varies across their large range, correlating with peak rainfall in many places, or summer in more temperate climes. The Purple Swamphen breeds in warm reed beds. The male has an elaborate courtship display, holding water weeds in his bill and bowing to the female with loud chuckles. In the western parts of the range the pattern of social behaviour tends to be monogamy, but cooperative breeding groups are more common in the eastern parts of the range. These groups may consist of multiple females and males sharing a nest or a male female pair with helpers drawn from previous clutches.
Pairs nest in a large pad of interwoven reed flags, etc., on a mass of floating debris or amongst matted reeds slightly above water level in swamps, clumps of rushes in paddocks or long unkempt grass. Multiple females may lay in the one nest and share the incubation duties. Each bird can lay 3–6 speckled eggs, pale yellowish stone to reddish buff, blotched and spotted with reddish brown. A communal nest may contain up to 12 eggs. The incubation period is 23–27 days, and is performed by both sexes as well as any helpers that might be present. The precocious chicks are feathered with downy black feathers and able to leave the nest soon after hatching, but will often remain in the nest for a few days. Young chicks are fed by their parents (and group members) for between 10–14 days, after which they begin to feed themselves.
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.
Where they are not persecuted they can become tame and be readily seen in towns and cities.
Status and conservation
The African Purple Swamphen varies from being common to being uncommon.
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