Bird Photography Challenge #21: Purple Swamphen

Related to coots and moorhens, the Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphirio) is an unmistakable waterbird.  Although quite common, it is resplendent in its purple and red colours and is the dazzling subject of our #21 Bird Photography Challenge.

What does it look like?

Purple Swamphen

Just looking for food!

The Purple Swamphen is the biggest of the rail family.  Dusky black on top and around the collar, and purple below, it is quite striking as it ambles across grass lands in the sunshine.  As it walks, it nervously flicks its tail up and down, revealing a gleaming white under-tail.  Another striking feature is its large bright red bill and frontal shield. Its long legs and feet are orange-red, as are its beady eyes.

Measuring on average 46cms and with a 90 to 100cm wingspan, it is quite a bulky hen but a good flyer, and being rather shy, it readily takes off to escape danger or approaching photographers!  In flight the long gangly legs and elongated toes trail behind.  It is also a very good swimmer, even though its feet are not webbed.

How does it behave?

Purple Swamphen

What are you looking at?

The Purple Swamphen frequents areas of long grasses and reeds along the edges of swamps or creeks. Its diet includes the soft shoots of reeds and rushes, as well as frogs and snails.  It uses its long toes and beak quite deftly to grasp food while eating, a bit like a parrot.

Tending to be found in small groups, all family members share the incubation and care of the young.  The nest is a platform of trampled grass a little above water.

Did you know?

This would have to be the noisiest bird around the wetlands.  It has a nasal screech that is raucous.  You could be forgiven for thinking there is a mutant donkey lurking nearby!  It gives a few loud bursts to show all the other critters just who controls the area and can be quite territorial.

Where is it found?

The Purple Swamphen is common and widespread throughout Northern, Eastern and Southern Australia. Subspecies can be found in New Zealand and New Guinea and islands of the SW Pacific.  The images in the gallery were taken in two locations: at Lake Borrie Wetlands, using a Canon 7Dii and a 100-400 lens, with 1.4 extender, and at Lake Pertobe in Warrnambool using the 60D with 100-400 lens.  Click on any image in the gallery to display in full screen.

16 thoughts on “Bird Photography Challenge #21: Purple Swamphen

  1. Quite territorial is an understatement these cheeky birds actually run at you and chase you away, well they do around Lilydale Lake walking track. Would make good YouTube video.

  2. What a gorgeous bird and such amazing pictures! I really enjoyed looking through your blog.

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