Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinica

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


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Breeding Range

Figure 1 . United States. Breeds regularly but locally in suitable habitat in Lower Coastal Plain of Gulf states and along Atlantic seaboard to S. Carolina (American Ornithologists' Union 1998a). Increasingly uncommon inland along rivers but extends northward up the Mississippi Valley into se. Arkansas (James and Neal 1986) and casually to Ohio and Illinois, and northward on Atlantic Coast casually to Maryland and Delaware (American Ornithologists' Union 1998a). Northern limits of regular breeding obscured by presence of nonbreeding birds that overshoot the Gulf states in spring and sometimes linger into summer with perhaps casual breeding.

Regular along Atlantic Lower Coastal Plain to Georgetown Co., SC (formerly to N. Carolina; Potter et al. 1980, LeGrand 1987, J. Gerwin pers. comm.), where very local in suitable breeding habitat. Also in S. Carolina along the Savannah River system from Jasper Co. (regular) to Barnwell Co., and in one inland location in Kenshaw Co. (LeGrand 1987, South Carolina Breeding Bird Atlas [BBA] unpubl.). Local in Georgia in impoundments along Atlantic coast drainage to Chatham and Bryan Cos., and up the Altamaha River system to Laurens and Telfair Cos. Also local in Gulf drainage of s. Georgia up the Suwannee River system to the Okefenokee Swamp, in lakes in Lowndes Co., in limestone lakes and impoundments along the Ochlockonee River to Grady Co., the Flint River to Baker Co., and the Chattahoochee River to Lake Seminole and Stew-art Co. (Stoddard 1978, Meyers and Odom 1991, Georgia BBA 1994–2001 unpubl.). Common and widespread in lakes in peninsular Florida south along inland ridge from Gainesville and in Florida Big Bend area of Leon, Wakulla, and Jefferson Cos., and more local west to Pensacola. Uncommon in ne. Florida (Kale et al. 1992).

In Alabama, local in lower coastal plain and up the Chattahoochee River to Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge (NWR; Porter 2001), and in Mobile River system delta northward to Chocktaw Co. on Tombigbee River and Cahaba River to Sumpter Co. (Imhof 1976, Porter 2001). In Mississippi, locally uncommon along Mississippi lower coastal plain (Toups and Jackson 1989) and in the Yazoo-Mississippi River delta (Washington Co.) and Pearl River Waterfowl Refuge (Turcotte and Watts 1999). Also extends locally to central Arkansas along Arkansas River drainage, sw. Arkansas along Red River drainage, and occasionally along the Mississippi River (James and Neal 1986).

Found throughout much of Louisiana but occurs most commonly in southwestern regions of that state, where it nests in rice fields and wildlife refuges, primarily near coast and in the Mississippi/Red River region (Lowery 1960, Wiedenfeld and Swan 2000). Breeding in coastal Texas locally common (some years) to uncommon; locally uncommon to rare in remainder of eastern half of state, north to Henderson, Anderson, and Upshur Cos. (Oberholser 1974, Pulich 1988b, Texas BBA 1987–1992 unpubl.).

Migrants overshooting normal breeding areas in the Mississippi Basin produce extralimital breeding episodes; e.g., breeding 1963–1967, Bryan Co., OK, in an unused fish hatchery (Baumgartner and Baumgartner 1992); 1963, McLean Co., IL (Waldbauer and Hayes 1964, Bennett 1999); 1962, Franklin Co., OH (Trautman and Glines 1964). In central Tennessee, isolated breeding in Grundy, Coffee, and Franklin Cos. (Allen 1961a, Dubke 1974, Nicholson 1997n) should probably be regarded as extralimital, but may breed regularly in Reelfoot Lake, w. Tennessee (Pitts 1985b, Robinson 1990a). Extralimital breeding north along Atlantic Coast to Delaware, 1975 (New Castle Co., Brokaw 1975; Kent Co., Putman 1977); Maryland, 1976 (Prince Georges Co., Patterson 1976); and Virginia, 1916 (Northampton Co., Kain 1987b).

West Indies. Breeds on Greater Antilles east to Puerto Rico; common breeder and year-round resident on Cuba and Hispaniola, local on Puerto Rico, and decidedly uncommon on Jamaica, Cayman Is., and San Andrés. Rare resident in Lesser Antilles on St.-Barthélemy, Montserrat, and from Guadeloupe southward, but nesting in Antilles more controlled by suitable habitat and wet years than by geography (Bond 1985, Raffaele et al. 1998, Garrido and Kirkconnell 2000).

Mexico and Central America. Breeding resident on Gulf slope of Mexico except most of Yucatán Peninsula and across base of Yucatán Peninsula sparingly into n. Guatemala and Belize (Russell 1964, Land 1970, Howell and Webb 1995). In Honduras, only known breeding colony is at Lake Yojoa at 630 m, but very likely breeds in many localities in Caribbean lowlands (Monroe 1968).

In Pacific lowlands, from Mexico (Nayarit) irregularly through Central America (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989, Stiles and Skutch 1989, Howell and Webb 1995). In Guatemala, fairly common in s. Pacific region adjacent to El Salvador (Land 1970). Local in El Salvador (van Rossem 1938, Howell and Webb 1995).

Locally common throughout Costa Rica lowlands (both Pacific and Caribbean slopes) to 1,500 m. Breeding season prolonged where there is permanent water, but only in wet season in Guanacaste (Slud 1964, Kiff 1975, Stiles and Skutch 1989). Fairly common to common on both slopes in the Republic of Panama lowlands (Engleman et al. 1995), ranging sparsely up to lower highlands of w. Chiriqui on the Volcán Lakes; Coiba I. in Pacific Ocean (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989).

South America. Breeds in tropical and temperate areas east of the Andes south to n. Argentina (once Chile and Uruguay; Hilty and Brown 1986), Paraguay (Hayes 1995), and Amazonian Bolivia (Remsen and Traylor 1989). In n. Argentina, south to Tucumán, Santiago del Estero (Chaco Santafecino), and extreme north of Buenos Aires (Orlog 1959). May breed in sw. coastal Peru or in eastern tropical Peru (Johnson 1972a, Parker et al. 1982). Normal southern and western breeding limits probably obscured by vagrancy and occasional extralimital breeding, as in Northern Hemisphere. Center of South American population difficult to discern, but in Guyana, mentioned as one of commonest birds (Schombergk in Chubb 1916). Common in inland and coastal swamps and estuaries of Venezuela and Colombia (Voous 1983b). Occurs throughout Brazil (Pinto 1964). In Maranhão (northeast coast of Brazil) market-hunted MarNov (Aguirre 1962). In Rio Grande do Sul, sw. Brazil, a fairly common summer breeding resident south to Uruguayan border (Belton 1984).

Winter Range

Winters mainly from Florida and n. Mexico south through breeding range. In Florida, winters in central and southern peninsula and sparingly in northern peninsula from Hamilton and Volusia Cos. south (Christmas Bird Count [CBC] data), though some areas evacuated for 1–2 mo in midwinter (CBC data). Rare and irregular during winter along remainder of U.S. Gulf Coast and some wintering in this area may be injured or sick individuals (Olson 1966, Root 1988b). Infrequent winter resident on some larger islands of n. Bahamas (Grand Bahama, Andros, New Providence; Raffaele et al. 1998). Resident throughout much of remainder of breeding range, except where dry-season withdrawal occurs. More widespread in winter, when northern migrants are present in se. Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, and Honduras (Howell and Webb 1995). In Colombia, migrants from north noted (H 1972), but with-draws from rice fields during winter (dry) season (McKay 1980). Absent from Paraguay in austral winter (Hayes et al. 1994). In Netherlands Antilles, rare, nonbreeding visitors occur Oct–Mar (Voous 1983b). Common in Feb in Jamaica, when population is increased by wintering North American migrants (Baker 1930). Winter resident as well as permanent resident in Cuba (Garrido and Kirkconnell 2000). Resident on Central and South American sites where dry seasons don't compel migration.

Extralimital Records

During migration or dispersal, recorded casually or accidentally northwest to central California, s. Nevada, s. Utah, se. Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and n. Michigan, with sight reports as far as N. and S. Dakota (Berkey et al. 1994, American Ornithologists' Union 1998a, Martin 1999). In Canada, north and east from central Ontario, s. Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Labrador, and Newfoundland (American Ornithologists' Union 1998a). Extremes of Western Hemisphere vagrancy are Labrador (53°30' N; Godfrey 1986) to South Georgia (54°30' S; mid-Jun 1943; immature (Pereyra 1944). In w. Atlantic, found in migration or dispersal from Bermuda south throughout Bahamas and the Caribbean islands to the Falklands (3 records; Taylor 1998). During seasonal or irregular movements, appears in Andes in lower temperate zone of Colombia to Lake Toto (3,020 m), regularly up the Urubamba River in Peru to Cuzco and casual at 4,080 m in Junin, central Peru, and on tablelands near Quito, Ecuador (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990). Several Pacific Ocean records exist: the Galápagos (Lévêque et al. 1966a), between South America and the Galápagos (Castro and Vries 1970), and Clipperton I. (Ehrhardt 1971, Anonymous 1988b, American Ornithologists' Union 1998a).

Numerous extralimital locations in Europe, the Atlantic islands, and South Africa (Kennedy 1961, Olson 1973b, Helm 1994). Accidental in Azores (Bannerman and Bannerman 1966a, Furtado and Le Grand 1979); near La Spezia, nw. Italy (Piccioli and Rossi Piccioli and Rosi 1994); Switzerland (Glutz Von Blotzheim et al. 1973, American Ornithologists' Union 1998a); Britain (Nisbet 1960); and as far north as Norway (Haftorn 1971), Iceland (64° N; Petursson and Olafsson 1985, Olafsson 1986, A. Gardarsson in litt.), and sw. Green-land (62° N), 20 Apr 1964, adult male (Zoologisk Museum, Copenhagen, no. 64227; Salomonsen 1967a; Cramp and Simmons 1980a, A. H. Joensen in litt., 29 Nov 1995). In South Africa, recorded almost annually from sw. Cape Province in recent years (Urban et al. 1986). Once off Liberia, 90 km at sea, 5 Jun 1968 (Lambert 1969a).

Historical Changes to the Distribution

Agricultural practices have had a great impact on this species. A high proportion of freshwater ponds have been destroyed throughout its range by agriculture, resulting in loss of natural habitat, but this has been offset by wet cultivation of rice. Added to current and abandoned rice impoundments are other impoundments on national wildlife refuges and farms, abandoned fish ponds, and an artificial marsh integral to a sewage-treatment facility in Georgia (RLW). Even in remaining natural lakes, eutrophication has led to increased emergent vegetation. Invasive exotic water plants such as water hyacinth (a natural food for gallinules in Central and South America) and hydrilla from Asia serve as food (Esler 1990).

Has increased considerably in w. Meta, Colombia, with the systematic conversion of rainforest to agriculture, specifically rice cultivation. During 1950s–1970s, forest was greatly diminished, resulting in a westward extension of the savanna. Is the only avian species nesting in rice fields. Also found commonly there in shallow marshes, but no information before the introduction of agriculture (McKay 1980, Hilty and Brown 1986). Perhaps extended range into n. Argentina following rice cultivation there, as lacking on some early lists (e.g., Brabourne III and Chubb 1912); but found in San Vicente, Chaco, Barracas al Sur, and Buenos Aires (Dabbene 1913) and Paraguay (Ihering 1904). Characterized as only recently spread to Coiba I., Panama, in Pacific Ocean (common 1976), probably in response to the great expansion of rice cultivation there (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989). By analogy with these examples, extensive rice cultivation in the Carolinas beginning in 1700s provided inviting habitat and perhaps an opportunity for breeding-range extension. This crop was abandoned on the East Coast by end of nineteenth century, but gallinules still breed in abandoned rice impoundments in s. South Carolina and Georgia and used to breed in similar situations in N. Carolina. Similarly, regular breeding extended into Bryan Co., OK, when fish-hatchery ponds became choked with vegetation in the 1960s, but breeding halted abruptly when ponds were cleaned in 1968 (Baumgartner and Baumgartner 1992). No reports of large populations in the Grand Prairie, AR, since 1954, presumably because the many ponds and shallow reservoirs formerly abandoned on fish farms and subsequently developing marshlike conditions have now been returned to agricultural production, reducing amount of suitable habitat (James and Neal 1986).

Aerial photographs supplied by F. Lohrer of Archbold Research Station document effect of eutrophication on lakes in sand ridge of central Florida; shown as clear water bodies surrounded by white sand beaches in aerial photographs from 1940s but, as of 2002, have weedy borders and plentiful floating vegetation and serve year-round as habitat for gallinules.

Distribution of the Purple Gallinule
  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Purple Gallinule
Purple Gallinule, Abundance map
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Data provided by eBird

Purple Gallinule

Porphyrio martinica


This map depicts the seasonally-averaged estimated relative abundance, defined as the expected count on an eBird Traveling Count starting at the optimal time of day with the optimal search duration and distance that maximizes detection of that species in a region.  Learn more

Relative abundance
Breeding season
May 3 - Aug 24
Non-breeding season
Nov 23 - Feb 15
Pre-breeding migratory season
Feb 22 - Apr 26
Post-breeding migratory season
Aug 31 - Nov 16
Note: Seasonal ranges overlap and are stacked in the order above; view full range in season maps.
Seasons timeline
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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