Purple Swamp-hen (Porphyrio porphyrio)

Purple Swamphen

[order] GRUIFORMES | [family] Rallidae | [latin] Porphyrio porphyrio | [UK] Purple Swamp-hen | [FR] Taleve sultane | [DE] Purpurhuhn | [ES] Calamon comun | [NL] Purperkoet


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range

Physical charateristics

Very large ponderous rail, much larger than all other congeners except flightless Takahe in New Zealand, with massive treangular red bill,red shield, red legs and long, slender toes. Most races predominantly blue to violet on head and body, with contrastingly blackish or greenish back and upperwing coverts. Female smaller, with smaller frontal shield. Juvenile duller than adult.
Races separated on plumage and size, nominate porphyrio has purple back and wings; madagascariensis has bronze-green or blue-green back and scpulars; poliocephalus group has cerulean blue scapulars upperwing coverts, face, throat and breast and dark blue back; size declines eastwards, with caspius largest, seistanicus smaller and poliocephalus smallest; indicus group often has large shield, upperparts and upperwing coverts black with green tinge; pulverulentus has olive-chestnut mantle and scapulars, and whole body strongly tinged ashy grey; melanotus group can have relatively small shield, and has short toes, black upperparts, and variably cobalt to violet throat and breast.

wingspan min.: 90 cm wingspan max.: 100 cm
size min.: 40 cm size max.: 50 cm
incubation min.: 23 days incubation max.: 25 days
fledging min.: 60 days fledging max.: 25 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 5  


Africa, Eurasia, Oriental Region, Australasia : widespread


Stilstaand of langzaam stromend zoet of brak water met brede vegetatie van riet, zeggen etc. langs randen.


Breeding in Sub Saharan Africa in rainy season, Mediterranean area mainly in March June. In India and Pakistan, mainly June-September, Australia in all months.
Nest is built in shallow water, concealed in thick emergent. Large, substantial structure of dead stems and leaves of water plants, usually built on platform of beaten-down vegetation. Both sexes build, 3-5 eggs are laid and incubated for 23-27 days, by both sexes and helpers.
Black downy chick has white filoplumes on head, neck, mantle and wing. First breeding after 1-2 years.

Feeding habits

Fresh or brackish, still or slow-flowing sheltered open waters.
Habitat normally permanent but in Africa also occupies, and breeds in, seasonal and temporary wetlands. Inhabits ponds, lakes, dams, marshes, swamps, rivers, artesian and seismic bores, also lakes in towns.


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.
Porphyrio porphyrio breeds locally in southern Europe, which accounts for less than
a quarter of its global range. The European population is relatively small (<35,000 pairs), but increased substantially between 1970-1990. The species continued to increase across most of its European range during 1990-2000?including key populations in Spain and Azerbaijan?and underwent a moderate increase overall.
This bird inhabits a major part of Africa, tropical Asia, Indonesia and Australia. In Europe its distribution extends to the Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic islands, Sardinia and the shores of the Caspian Sea. Its population within the European Union is estimated at 3500-3600 breeding pairs. After a strong decline in the first half of this century, the species is increasing again since the 1970’s following strict protection measures and reintroduction programmes
Purple Swamp-hen status Least Concern


Mainly resident. Some individuals wander, but European records north of Mediterranean basin seldom free of suspicion as escapes. Makes local seasonal movements in Andalusian marismas. As marshes dry out in summer, gradual withdrawal to permanent coastal lagoons of Guadalquivir mouth, returning late autumn when marismas reflooded after rain. This movement believed largely on foot, crossing open ground at night.

Distribution map

Purple Swamp-hen distribution range map

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