Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinica

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

Movements and Migration

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Migration Overview

Short-distance, partial migrant. Mainly summer visitor to U.S. Apr-Oct, although a central Florida population and scattered individuals overwinter. Trans-Gulf spring migrant (Stevenson 1957b) from Central America and the Caribbean. Movements in tropical South America correspond to wet-dry seasonal movement. Large breeding population near equator in Maranhão, Brazil, migrates, but wintering site unknown. In Meta, Colombia, most depart at end of rainy season in Oct; believed to be locally migratory (Aguirre 1962, Mckay 1981).

Austral migrant or partial migrant in Argentina, Paraguay, and s. Brazil (Belton 1984, Sick 1993, Hayes et al. 1994), although others do not regard it as a migrant in Argentina (Nores et al. 1983, Contreras et al. 1990, Navas 1991); insufficient information available to be plotted on a distributional map (Taylor 1998).

Vagrant characteristics of Rallidae during migration are widely recognized (Silbernagl 1982), and the champion vagrant of this family may well be the Purple Gallinule (Parkes et al. 1978, Remsen and Parker III 1990, Taylor 1998). This vagrancy may partially result from individuals being carried astray by wind (Olson 1973b). A weather system may have caused multiple vagrancies in 1999, when 5-12 individuals occurred in Illinois, 1-3 in Indiana, with reports in Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, and first for S. Dakota (Wood 1999).

Timing and Routes of Migration

Migration observed in Texas mid-Apr to late May and early Aug-late Oct (extremes: 5 Mar, 24 Jun; Jul, 1 Dec; Oberholser 1974). In n. Florida, 11 struck a TV tower 19561975, with dates falling between 23 Mar-25 May (7) and 30 Aug-7 Sep (2; Crawford 1981); strikes also occurred on 1 and 10 Jul. Since species breeds nearby, Jul records may relate to movements of local birds.

Early-arrival dates in Florida include Brevard Co., 12 Mar 1964 (Cruickshank 1980); St. Marks, 16 Mar 1918 and 18 Mar 1917 (Williams 1920); western panhandle, 28 Mar 1930 (Weston 1965a). In Louisiana, earliest arrival last week in Mar (Lowery 1960). Average arrival in breeding range of Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana mid-Apr; in Arkansas, third week Apr (Meanley 1963b, Reagan 1977, Helm 1982, James and Neal 1986).

Fall departure mainly in late Aug, but some, including adults with young, remain into Sep and early Oct. Final departure obscured by stragglers into Nov or casually later. In Lacassine NWR in s. Louisiana, of 13,000 Purple Gallinules estimated on 20 Aug, 50% of adults and 25% of young departed censused area by 17 Sep, with only 2.5% of adults and 13% of young remaining until 22 Oct; all were gone by 30 Nov (Bell 1976).

Not infrequently alights on ships in Gulf of Mexico-off Galveston, TX, several live individuals were captured and offered to J. J. Audubon on 26 Apr. John Bachman once received 3 specimens caught 500 km at sea (Audubon 1838b). Circumstantial evidence of trans-Gulf migration arises from earlier arrival on northern gulf than on Texas coast (Stevenson 1957b). Migration monitored both spring and fall from oil-production platforms 150 km south of Gulf Coast provides evidence for both trans-Gulf migration and for individuals cutting across western gulf off Texas shore (R. W. Russell pers. comm.). Migration at sea extends into Caribbean Sea, with instances of 2 birds found 500 km southeast of Belize and one found 400 km ENE of Belize (Baird et al. 1884, Kennedy 1961). Migration from Antilles is indicated by capture of specimens on the Tortugas 14 Apr and 31 Oct 1859 and by birds striking the lighthouse there on 14 Apr 1909 (Howell 1932). In West Indies, uncommon migrant on some larger islands in n. Bahamas (Grand Cayman, Andros, New Providence) Aug-Oct and Mar-May (Raffaele et al. 1998).

In w. Meta, Colombia, begins to arrive in marshes in late Mar; numbers increased through Apr. In rice fields, first appeared in earliest maturing rice fields second week in May; reached a minimum density of 21/ha third week May. As water is drawn from each plot prior to harvesting, individuals move into nearby rice fields that are beginning to mature. Most depart at end of rainy season in Oct; much smaller numbers the remainder of year (Mckay 1981). In se. Brazil, earliest record 23 Sep, latest 22 May, with numbers peaking between those dates (Belton 1984, Sick 1993). In Paraguay, extreme dates 5 Sep and 30 May (Hayes 1995).

Most extralimital records in Northern Hemisphere occur in Apr-May and Oct, during normal migration period. Small number occur in midwinter; e.g., 4 in late Dec-Jan (Godfrey 1986), suggesting individuals from a population other than North American.

Migratory Behavior

Though of weak-winged appearance when flying just over marsh vegetation, flies strongly when migrating, flying high and advancing in a direct course by continued flapping (Audubon 1838b, Bent 1926). Migrants meeting cyclonic storms especially prone to being blown well beyond normal range. Thus low-pressure systems moving north up East Coast of U.S. carry this species almost annually to Bermuda and New England (Nisbet 1960). Regular vagrancy on upwind Atlantic islands of St. Helena and Ascension may be accomplished either by flying over the trade winds or first traveling eastward south of the trade winds and, on approach of African coast, picking up the southwest trade wind to St. Helena and Ascension I. Potentially, such long oceanic flights can be facilitated by resting on ocean. Whatever the explanation, this species does arrive on mid-South Atlantic islands (Olson 1973b). Nocturnal migrant apparently attracted on foggy nights by lights on towers, ships, and oil platforms (Crawford 1981, Belton 1984, RLW). Enters rice fields to breed as rice is maturing in Jun (Mckay 1981, Helm 1982), suggesting a stopover strategy while waiting for suitable habitat.

Control and Physiology of Migration

Little information. Migrates after molt on its breeding grounds. Late adults stayed on a n. Florida impoundment into Oct with dependent young (RLW). Vagrants in Southern Hemisphere predominantly in immature plumage, in contrast to northern vagrants.

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Purple Gallinule

Porphyrio martinica


This map animates weekly 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 on the specified date.  Learn more

Relative abundance
Week of the year

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