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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Geographic Variation

None noted; no subspecies recognized despite broad range. Extensive vagrancy (see Distribution, above) may contribute to this lack of subspeciation.



Related Species

Appears to form a superspecies with Allen's Gallinule (P. alleni; Olson 1973b, Sibley and Monroe 1990), which uses similar habitats in Africa. Although Porphyrula is retained by Am. Ornithol. Union (American Ornithologists' Union 1998a), other reviewers merge it and Notornis into Porphyrio (Olson 1973a, Urban et al. 1986, Sibley and Monroe 1990, Trewick 1997, Taylor 1998). Porphyrula includes the smaller species, which differ insignificantly from Porphyrio and share some specialized characteristics with it (Olson 1973a). Notornis is a recent flightless derivative (Olson 1973a, Trewick 1997). A study of cooperative breeding behavior of nonmigratory Purple Gallinules reveals remarkably similar behavior to that of Notornis (Hunter 1986).

Fossil History

Purple Gallinules did not appear until the Pleistocene (Feduccia 1968). Late Pleistocene fossil specimens known from Haile and Arredondo, Alachua Co., and Itchtucknee River, FL (Brodkorb Brodkorb 1953b, Brodkorb 1959c; Campbell 1980), and from Cerro de San Francisco in the Dominican Republic (Bernstein 1965). Other fossil sites reported from Brazil and other locations in Florida (Winge 1887, Ligon 1965, Brodkorb 1967, Emslie 1998). Remains found at Holocene through pre-Columbian sites in Illinois, Florida, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, Dominican Republic, Martinique, St. Kitts, Antigua, and Venezuela (Wetmore Wetmore 1935a, Wetmore 1938b, Wetmore 1952; Brodkorb Brodkorb 1953b, Brodkorb 1967; Wing et al. 1968, Steadman et al. 1984). Steadman et al. (Steadman et al. 1984) also provide paleontological evidence that suggest extinctions on Antigua are best attributed to prehistoric human-caused environmental degradation.

Two bones of a Porphyrula sp. found in the Macasphalt Shell Pit, Sarasota Co., and one bone in the St. Petersburg Times Site, Pinellas Co., both late Blancan (= Pleistocene) localities in Florida. One of the former bones appears to represent a new species from the late Pliocene related to Purple Gallinule, but additional specimens needed for adequate analysis. The avifauna from this site suggest a fresh or brackish marsh (Emslie 1992).

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