Skip to main content

Habitat Ecology Information

What’s Lurking In Your Backyard? – #26 Purple Swamphen

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#26 Purple Swamphen
(Porphyrio porphyrio)

The Purple Swamphen is common around waterways, ponds, lakes and stream across the eastern and northern parts of Australia. It is believed that the species in New Zealand called the “Pukeko” locally, originated from Australia.

The Purple Swamphen is black on its back and around the head, which sets of the strong orange red beak. The chest and neck are dark blue to purple with a white underside to the tail. This white tail is seen as the Purple Swamphen walks and flicks its tail. The swamphen’s feet and legs are a similar colour to the beak and with its long legs and elongated toes it can walk across reeds and other vegetation in its preferred habitat. It will also use these long toes to grasp food when it is eating. It is also a good swimmer but prefers life closer to land.

Despite its size the Purple Swamphen is quite an accomplished flier and will quickly take to the air when disturbed or in danger with its long legs and toes trailing behind or below it.

The Purple Swamp Hen has a varied diet of soft vegetation, which it gets from the reeds and rushes around the edge of the water it inhabits. It will also eat a variety of small animals such as frogs and snails and has a reputation of stealing eggs and chicks from other bird’s nest or nearby.

Breeding occurs in and around the water with nests being hidden in reeds and being formed by trampling the vegetation. The incubation and care of young chicks is a family affair with all members taking part. Two broods may be raised in a year depending on conditions.

© Habitat Ecology 2013