While near lakes, marshes, canals, and other waterbodies where reeds, cattails, water lilies, and water hyacinth grow at water’s edge, you might be startled by a loud, harsh “Kraaa,” or repeated cackle. Soon, a Common Gallinule (previously named a Moorhen), likely will appear as it frequents those habitats.
Common Gallinules forage for seeds, plants, snails, and insects, as this one is doing amongst water lettuce in the photo taken by Bob Montanaro with a Canon EOS 20D, 400 mm lens. The size of a small duck, and often mistaken for one, Gallinules swim with a jerky motion as it does not have webbed feet. Long yellow legs and spread toes allow it to walk on top of lily pads.
Look at its beak carefully – it is not a duckbill but is pointed, with an unusual squared shield covering its forehead. This brilliant scarlet red and yellow-tipped shield is intensely colored when breeding from March to May, but fades thereafter. In ancient Hawaiian legend, a Gallinule brought fire to humankind; in doing so, its forehead became scorched red.
A Florida game bird, Common Gallinules (but not the rarer Purple Gallinule) are hunted in September and October. The Common Gallinule is widespread in warmer climes of Europe, Africa, Asia, and many islands. Our resident Gallinules occur in our wetlands year-round, although thousands of migrants come through from September to March. Birds captured in Florida during migration were banded in New York, Ontario and the Great Lakes region, west to Iowa and Missouri and south to Louisiana, suggesting that Florida is a major refueling point/wintering ground on migration. Because Florida is a critical stop-over for many species, much of North America depends on us to protect our natural food resources and habitats for birds.
Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society