Our Mission: To preserve and protect the animals, plants, and natural communities
in Indian River County through advocacy, education, and public awareness.
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Bird Photo of the Month
September 2011

Title: A Rainbow Of Color by George Bollis

More typically seen from the front or side, a Purple Gallinule lurking in the shadows looks predominantly purple. George Bollis’s photograph highlights the wings bathed in sunlight, revealing colorful feathers of green, turquoise and blue. The close-up, taken with a Nikon D300, 400 mm lens at 2.8 illustrates other identification marks. Notice the pastel blue shield above the beak, a feature birdwatchers look for to distinguish an adult of this species from both the Common Gallinule (until this year known as Common Moorhen in America) and the introduced Purple Swamphen, both having red frontal shields. The Purple Gallinule also differs in having a central white area on the tail, whereas the Common has white feathers to each side, a trait evident when viewing the birds from the back.

Bright yellow elongated toes coupled with the birds’ naturally low body weight (one half pound) enable the Purple Gallinule to walk gracefully atop lily pads. This member of the worldwide rail family prefers to stand on or clamber about the vegetation, rather than swim, while feeding in freshwater marshes.

Plants, such as buttonbush, water willow, saw grass, smartweed, sedges, rice, pickerel weed, water-lily and now the exotic invasive water-hyacinth and hydrilla dominate their diet. One way they capture prey is to roll back the floating leaf edge with their bill, then holding it down with their toes, pluck clinging aquatic insects.

Parents build floating nests from interlocking plant material and change places every 34 hours incubating and turning a clutch of 6 to 9 eggs. To facilitate the parental exchange, they bend a blade of grass and weave a bridge to maneuver past each other.

Most bird species adapt to and only thrive in particular habitats where they can find their special food. You’ll never see a Purple Gallinule in a typical retention pond cleansed of aquatic vegetation by herbicides with the shoreline mowed down to the water’s edge.

Juanita Baker
Coordinator of the Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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