The Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) is native area is vast, stretching from southern Europe, the Mediterranean, and all of Africa across Asia and India to Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the western Pacific. The birds found in Florida are native to the area from Pakistan across India to southern China.

They are a member of the rail, gallinule and coot family (Rallidae). Purple Swamphens are shy wetland birds with short, stubby tails and wings. An adult bird is approximately 18 inches long with a wingspan of 35 to 40 inches and weight about 1.5 pounds. Coloration various across their large native range. Some are brilliant blue and as others are nearly black.

The Purple Swamphen found in Florida are believed to belong to the gray-headed subspecies. Some do have brilliant blue heads and may belong to another race. Their heads either grayish or blue, purple-blue necks and bodies, and blue-green wings. The undersides of their tails are white, with the irises of their eyes, their bills and their frontal shields are reddish. Purple Swamphens legs and feet are pinkish and their heels and joints on their feet are dark. It is a very vocal bird with a repertoire of calls that include a common trumpeting call with a nasal rattle, wide variety of groans, wails, squawks, shrieks, and hums.

Due to the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, this resulted in the accidental release of many non-native wildlife in South Florida. Most birds escaped from bird keepers in the Pembroke Pines area, however, six to eight individuals also escaped from the Miami Metro Zoo at the same time.

Purple Swamphens where first found in Florida in 1996 and by 1999 the population had grown to 134 birds. They were reported seen in the Everglades Water Conservative Area in 2006. The greatest number of bird is found in the Pembroke Pines area and stormwater treatment areas just north of the Everglades. In recent years, small numbers have been found in Belle Glade, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve. Isolated reports have also found them in Osceola, Brevard and Lake Counties in Florida.

A Purple Swamphen is highly territorial and aggressive. They often fight amongst themselves and with other species over food. If found in large numbers, these aggressive invaders could have a negative impact on native birds. The primary element of their diet is spikerush plants which are extremely import for creating a habitat that supports fisheries in Lake Okeechobee and other aquatic habitats.

 

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