Recently a number of photos and sightings of Gallinules have been posted for Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. They are listed as “Accidental – has been seen only once or twice” in the Hagerman NWR Bird Check list.
The more frequently spotted this season has been the Common Gallinule. Up until about three years ago, this bird was called “Common Moorhen”.
|Common Gallinule at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, by Dick Malnory|
From All About Birds we learn that the Common Gallinule is “The most widely distributed member of the rail family, [and] inhabits marshes and ponds from Canada to Chile, from northern Europe to southern Africa, and across Asia to the Pacific. Vocal and boldly marked, the species can be quite conspicuous, sometimes using its long toes to walk atop floating vegetation.
The birds are about 12 – 13 inches long, with a wingspan of 21 – 24 inches. They feed mostly on seeds from grasses and sedge, and some snails. The same website gives these “Cool Facts about the Common Gallinule":
The Common Gallinule has long toes that makes it possible to walk on soft mud and floating vegetation. The toes have no lobes or webbing to help in swimming, but the moorhen is a good swimmer anyway.
The Common Gallinule sometimes lifts its feet out of the water in front of the body while swimming, perhaps to pass over vegetation.
A clutch has from 3 – 15 eggs. Newly hatched chicks of the Common Gallinule have spurs on their wings that help them climb into the nest or grab emergent vegetation.
All About Birds notes that "Twelve subspecies of the Common Gallinule are recognized from around the world, most differing only in size or brightness of plumage. One subspecies is found only in the Hawaiian Islands and has been known as the Hawaiian Moorhen, or 'Alae 'Ula."
In The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, two female Common Gallinules and a male may cooperate in sharing a nest, and the breeding season may be extended if there is adequate food available; the Common Gallinule may attempt as many as three broods. In that case immatures from a previous breeding will aid the nest pair in feeding the next brood.
|Pair of Common Gallinules at Hagerman NWR , by Eileen Sullivan|
The Purple Gallinule is the subject of the other recent sightings. Here is a description of the Purple Gallinule from All About Birds: A beautifully colored bird of southern and tropical wetlands, the Purple Gallinule can be seen walking on top of floating vegetation or clambering through dense shrubs.
Its extremely long toes help it walk on lily pads without sinking.
Swims on surface of water like a duck and walks on floating plants rather like a chicken.
Dark purple head, neck, and underside, with a green back. The bill is red, tipped with yellow, and triangular like a chicken's, not flat like a duck's. Light blue forehead, and yellow legs. Approximately the same size as the Common Gallinule.
|Purple Gallinule at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, by Eileen Sullivan|
It is interesting to note that, according to Sibley, while rallid chicks are semi-precocial, they can leave the nest only for short times; Purple Callinules have been observed moving chicks in their bill from a threatened nest.
All About Birds says that the Purple Gallinule is essentially a tropical marshbird that just makes its way into the United States and even farther, regularly turning up in northern states and southern Canada, even in Europe and South Africa.