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22–23 cm; male 145–164 (155) g, female 92–137 (109) g, 1 unsexed 149 g. Like small version of G. chloropus, but paler overall, appearing mainly grey in flight with darker wings; bright yellow bill , scarlet culmen, scarlet pointed frontal shield (rounded in G. chloropus); legs and feet yellow-green, sometimes green, orange , flesh or pinkish red, with no red “garter”. Female has paler, browner upperparts, light grey face with black only round base of bill, silvery grey throat, and paler grey underparts, especially on belly; frontal shield smaller, duller and orange next to feathers. Immature has crown, upperwing-coverts and upperparts olive brown, greyer on mantle; scapulars and tertials edged pale buff; sides of head and neck buffy brown; chin to lower breast and belly creamy white, shading to light grey on flanks; undertail-coverts white at sides, black in centre; bill brownish yellow with dusky base to culmen; legs and feet greyish green to dull yellow-green; may breed in this plumage.
Senegal and Gambia E to Ethiopia, and S to N & E Namibia, Botswana and NE South Africa.
Some birds resident year-round in permanently suitable habitats, but many are wet-season migrants. In W Africa some resident in wet S areas but in dry N areas numbers increase during rains, when birds breed, and decrease as seasonal habitats dry out. Occurs Senegal and Gambia mainly in wet season; seasonal movements in Ivory Coast; almost all records in Nigeria Mar–Sept; occurs Ghana mainly Jun–Sept; resident in Chad except in Sahel zone, where purely a rains migrant. Probable migrants found Cameroon, Nov, and DR Congo (Kivu) May–Jun; migrants arrive Gabon, Nov–Dec. Present all year near Entebbe, Uganda. Occurs Kenya and NE Tanzania most months but commonest Apr–Jul; night migrants attracted to lights, E Kenya, Dec–Jan. Largely rainy season visitor in S Africa: 88% of specimens from SE DR Congo to South Africa taken Dec–Apr (38% in Jan). In Zambia, largely absent Jun–Nov; night migrant found Apr. In Zimbabwe and Botswana breeds in semi-arid areas at pans and other temporary waters which disappear in dry season; occurs Botswana Oct–Jun, mainly Dec–Apr. In South Africa, occurs Transvaal Dec–May; probable migrant found Natal Feb. Recorded as vagrant at least in S Egypt (3), Madeira I (4), S Spain (5), NW Spain (6), and even off Brazil, at the archipelago of São Pedro and São Paulo (7).
Diet and Foraging
Sounds and Vocal Behavior
Senegal and Gambia, breeding condition Aug; Sierra Leone, Nov; Nigeria, Jul–Sept; Ghana, Jun; Gabon, Feb; Chad, Aug; Sudan, Aug; Somalia, May; Zaire, high plateau of SE, Jan–Mar, at lower altitudes possibly Apr–May; Angola, Jan, Mar; Kenya and NE Tanzania, Mar, May–Jun; Tanzania Dec–Mar; Zambia and Malawi, Jan–Mar; Zimbabwe, Dec–Apr; Namibia, Feb–Mar, probably Sept; Botswana, Feb; South Africa, Dec–Apr. Monogamous; territorial when breeding. Nest smaller and more compact than that of G. chloropus; pad of grass or sedges with shallow cup; placed on or up to 5 cm above water (recorded water depth 20–100 cm) in emergent grasses or sedges up to 1·5 m tall, with surrounding stems often bent down over nest and bound together to form canopy; entrance ramp of grass and sedge stems sometimes built from water to lip of cup. External diameter 15–20 cm; thickness 6–10 cm; depth of cup 2·5–5 cm. Nests usually well separated but in Nigeria 4 pairs nested in radius of 20 m. Eggs 3–9 (mean c. 5); incubation 19–20 days, probably by both sexes, starting before clutch complete; black downy chick has black bill with white tip and pink base, frontal shield and base of culmen pale red-brown, pale purple next to forehead, eye dark brown, legs and feet bluish grey; fledging 35–38 days. No information on parental care.
Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Widespread and locally common over much of range but, as with Porphyrio alleni, erratic nature of its occurrence in seasonal habitats makes numbers difficult to assess. Sometimes locally very numerous in suitable breeding habitat during seasons of good rainfall, e.g. at least 50,000 pairs thought to be present on the Nyl floodplain, N Transvaal, in early 1996, during an exceptionally wet season; concentrations of over 1000 seen on Kafue Flats, Zambia, at end of rainy season. In Ivory Coast, outnumbers G. chloropus in Korhogo marshes; numerous in S Cameroon; frequent in Nigeria, except SE; locally abundant during rains in Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Much habitat loss must have occurred in recent years as a result of the draining, damming and grazing of its wetland habitats, but overall effect of this is unclear.