Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinica

Richard L. West and Gene K. Hess
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated January 1, 2002

Demography and Populations

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Measures of Breeding Activity

Age At First Breeding; Intervals Between Breeding

No data but probably breed when 1 yr old, as do other rallids. Breed annually. An adult with some brownish tones in its plumage (indicating a yearling bird) was observed breeding in Florida (RLW). In a residential Costa Rican population, 1 female first bred at 9–10 mo, but some adults, because of limited breeding habitat availability, may delay breeding until able to acquire a territory (Hunter 1985b). In the interim, they were either floaters or helpers.


Six to 8 in S. Carolina (Sprunt 1970); similar size elsewhere in se. United States (Bent 1926). See Table 2 and Breeding: eggs, above.

Annual And Lifetime Reproductive Success

Few data for North America. A 1977–1978 study in Louisiana found success (% nests hatching ≥ 1 egg) rates 50–85% (see Helm 1982). A 2-yr Texas study showed nest-success rates varied greatly: 91% (n = 87) and 49% (n = 87; Cottam and Glazener 1959).

Chick survival of multi-brooded pairs in Costa Rica varied from 72% to 0, and was correlated with average number of helpers on the territory; indirect effects may have been better territories and more feeding and guarding of chicks (n = 8 breeding groups; Hunter 1985b). In Louisiana rice fields, 85.2% of eggs hatched from nests observed throughout the incubation period (n = 38 nests including 3 abandoned and 1 lost; Causey et al. 1968). Analysis of pooled failed Purple Gallinule (n = 38) and Common Moorhen nests (n = 71) in Louisiana suggested 39% depredated, 24% lost to unknown causes, 23% abandoned, 9% lost in severe weather, 3% floated away, and 2% lost when black ants (Formicidae) entered pipping eggs (Helm 1982).

In Louisiana studies, average brood size 1.8 for 9 broods 4–6 wk of age (Bell 1976), and average brood size at fledging varied from 1.5 (Matthews 1983b) to 3.1 (Helm 1982). Brood sizes observed through roadside counts in Louisiana show a decreasing trend as the young grow from <2 wk to >6 wk (Helm 1982). Surveys conducted from air boats each Aug on Lacassine NWR in se. Louisiana indicated an average production rate of 1.6 (range 0.6–2.8) immatures/adults during 1979–1992 (Lacassine NWR unpubl.).

In Costa Rica, chick survival to 2 mo (for broods averaging 2.4 young at hatch) was 37.5% for broods with no helpers (n = 8 broods) and 68% for broods with ≥1 helper (n = 15 broods). Groups that had more helpers had a higher percentage of chicks surviving to 2 mo and produced more clutches in a given period (Hunter 1986).

Proportion Of Total Females That Rear At Least One Brood To Nest-Leaving Or Independence

In Costa Rica, some adult females become nonbreeding helpers until they can find a breeding opening. Of 8 breeding groups studied in Costa Rica that succeeded in hatching eggs, only one failed to raise young to independence (Hunter 1986). No other data on marked populations.

Life Span and Survivorship

No information.

Disease and Body Parasites


Oocysts of avian Coccidia (Apicomplexa: Eimeriidae) Eimeria porphyrulae n. sp. are described in Purple Gallinule feces in Amazonian Brazil (Lainson 1994).

Body Parasites

No information.

Causes of Mortality

Little information other than predation (see Behavior: predation, above) and human-related causes (see Conservation and management: effects of human activity, below). Harvesting fast-maturing rice before breeding cycle is complete will result in loss of young (Helm 1982).

Population Spatial Metrics

Initial Dispersal From Natal Site

Between ages of 6 and 15 mo, most young disappeared from their Costa Rican breeding pond. At least some of these individuals reappeared after long absences; no nearby suitable habitat was available (Hunter 1986).

Fidelity To Breeding Site And Winter Home Range

One banded young and one adult returned to a n. Florida breeding site out of 20 banded individuals (RLW).

Dispersal From Breeding Site

Marked birds remain on the same territory for successive broods in Costa Rica (Hunter 1986).

Home Range

See Behavior: spacing, above, for home range of breeding birds.

Population Status


Relatively high nesting densities reported in rice fields of s. U.S.: 37 nests found in a 24-ha rice field near Crowley, LA, that was searched twice during breeding season (1.5 pair/ha; Helm 1982). Minimum density range from 20 to 27 adults/ha in Colombia rice fields (Mckay 1981).

Three hundred pairs Purple Gallinules reported breeding on Orange Lake (5,000 ha) and Bivin's Arm (600 ha), Alachua Co., FL (Mills 1948). Often found on smaller (20 ha) ponds where maximum report of no less than 8 pairs and downy young of 5 different sizes (hatchlings to half grown) has been typical (Mitchell Pond, Grady Co., GA; Stoddard 1978).


Holliman (1977) noted lack of information on population status and trends of Purple Gallinules, and there is still little reliable information (Helm 1994). Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) provides no useful information because insufficient numbers of Purple Gallinules are encountered by this technique, owing to combination of low population and off-road, marsh habitat.

Species has apparently increased wherever rice is cultivated, but fast-ripening rice may provide unsuitable habitat.

Population Regulation

Severe drought and draining of favored bodies of water may be chief limiting factor (Stevenson and Anderson 1994b). No data on adult mortality.

Recommended Citation

West, R. L. and G. K. Hess (2020). Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.purgal2.01