Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinica

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

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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No evidence of vocal learning. A chick could be heard peeping in an unpipped shell the day before it hatched (Gross and Van Tyne 1929). When hatched, young peep—a food-soliciting sound (Krekorian 1978), getting shriller if one is left behind the family group (RLW). Juveniles of 6 wk emit adultlike alarm calls when startled (Helm 1982).

Vocal Array

Varied array of calls; little studied and poorly described.

Cackle. Figure 2A . Most recognized call is a loud cackle or rapid, clucking series, accelerating then fading, when disturbed: kahw cohw-cohw-cohw . . . or keh-keh- keh . . ., etc. (Howell and Webb 1995). This series of notes is similar to one given by Common Moorhen but is usually higher. Variations on this call are a series of clucking notes or fowl-like cackles (Slud 1964) or a nasal, shrill pipit pipit pipit peee-pit peee-pit, etc. (Stiles and Skutch 1989) or a frequently sounded shrill laughing hiddy-hiddy-hiddy, hit-up, hit-up, hit-up (Oberholser 1974).

Slow Clucking and Grunt Call. See Figures 2B and 2C . Appears to be a variant of the rapid, clucking ka calls, which slow down or become lower-pitched kerr notes. The latter is probably the same as described as a very guttural call heard incessantly (Wayne 1910) or gruff chatters (Howell and Webb 1995) and are related to a low dog, and notes or phrases sounding like mutters (Sick 1993, Howell and Webb 1995).

Slow Clucking also described as cac-cac-cac or cut-cut-cut by a bird on the nest (Gross and Van Tyne 1929).

Reedy Cries. Includes a “chip” like noise of a bicycle horn or a falsetto toot of a seventeenth-century trumpet, a gull-like note, and a loud, shouting gheeek ! much like that of a Limpkin (Aramus guarauna; Slud 1964, Stiles and Skutch 1989). Other calls described include a loud, henlike co-doodle, a single sharp note, a guttural sound, and (in adult) a call resembling that of a Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani), to which juveniles responded with an odd aunk, aunk, aunk as they answered the parent (Gross and Van Tyne 1929). No evidence of geographical variation.


Noisy at most times of year, especially in breeding season. One frequently sounded call is described as a shrill laughing hiddy- hiddy-hiddy, hit-up, hit-up, hit-up (Oberholser 1974). Generally quiet in winter in Florida; still gives Slow Clucking sounds, but Cackles much less frequently (RLW).

Daily Pattern

More vocal in early morning on breeding grounds before day heats up (RLW).

Places Of Vocalizing

Especially when flying, gives henlike cackles and squawks (Oberholser 1974). On flying, utters a cackling kek kek kek kek almost constantly (Bent 1926).

Repertoire And Delivery Of Songs

No information. Cackle is delivered with such a variety of textures, pitches, intensities, speed, and length that no successful catalog is available. Calls seemingly overlap with equally complex calls of Common Moorhen, making recognition, description, and cataloging of nuances by the researcher even more difficult.

Social Context And Presumed Functions

The loud alarm calls sounded by Purple Gallinule when driven from a Common Moorhen territory often attract additional Purple Gallinules. In one instance, a diligent moorhen consecutively evicted 4 Purple Gallinules attracted to these calls (Helm 1982). When disturbed, gallinule will utter a single sharp note before taking flight; after alighting, frequently gives (in addition to this preliminary note) a guttural sound and occasionally a loud henlike co-doodle . Either parent, flying to nesting island, known to give a loud metallic clucking call; if no danger ap-parent, bird waits and then silently approaches nest (Gross and Van Tyne 1929).

Nonvocal Sounds

In Panama, when settled on nest and apparently unthreatened, individual gave a guttural whonk followed by bill-snapping—one of most characteristic sounds heard. Thought to be a signal of contentment. Answered by mate, although it was out of sight. At times, a bird away from the nest would utter a clucking sound that was answered immediately by the sitting bird, snapping its bill. Not determined whether mandible struck the maxilla because of rapid vibration. This sound was frequently heard in Nov, outside of breeding context (Gross and Van Tyne 1929).

Figure 2. Vocalizations of adult Purple Gallinules.

A. Alarm Cackle. B. Clucks. C. Grunts. From Florida Museum of Natural History (A: FLMNH #1346, recorded by G. Stiles, Puntarenas, Costa Rica, 15 Feb 1992 B. and C: FLMNH #4297, J. W. Hardy, Leon Co., FL, 26 Apr 1981). Prepared by staff of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, The Ohio State University, using a Kay Elemetrics DSP 5500 Sona-Graph (with effective frequency resolution of 75 Hz and a 200-point FFT transform size).

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