Faux Duck o’ the Week

November 1, 2020 • 8:00 am

Here’s this week’s faux duck installment from biologist John Avise. The weekly series features birds that many people think are ducks, but they’re not. Your job is to guess the species. After you try, click “read more” at the bottom to go below the fold for the ID, some faux duck facts (NOT faux news), and a range map.

Adult swimming:


Adult side view:

Adult front view:

Non-breeding subadult:



Adult head view:

With Common Gallinule to the left:


Click on “read more” to see the ID, Fun Faux Duck Facts, and a range map.

The faux duck: Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica)

This is an inhabitant of densely vegetated freshwater marshes of the Americas.  Bright yellow legs, a bright red-and-yellow bill, a pale blue shield on the forehead, a snowy-white vent area, and a brilliant purple plumage (in good light) all help to identify this absolutely gorgeous species in the Rallidae family.  Like its cousin the Common Gallinule (see last week’s post), this species has long un-webbed toes that help it clamber about on reeds and other aquatic vegetation.  These birds seldom swim.  Juveniles share the body form of the adult but are much duller in coloration.  There is no sexual dimorphism and pairs tend to be socially monogamous.  Nests are in floating shoreline vegetation with each nest containing about 5-10 eggs.  Outside of its normal range, extreme vagrants of this species have shown up at highly unexpected places such as Tierra del Fuego, Labrador, Iceland, and California.  A Eurasian counterpart of this species is the Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), which looks very similar to the American version.

Here’s a range map from the Cornell bird site:

12 thoughts on “Faux Duck o’ the Week

  1. Finally a species I could ID correctly! It’s one of those that really stands out when flipping through guide books. I’ve never seen one in person though.

  2. Great photos! I saw one some years back as a vagrant here in SE Ohio. That was special. But my first sighting of one was equally memorable. In the Everglades for the first time, I saw movement in a shrubby thicket next to the water. Getting my binos on the spot, I spotted a Purple Gallinule. It was eating Coco Plums (Chrysobalanus icaco).

  3. Splendid bird, but I can’t help wondering why anyone would look at its pointed beak and confuse it with a duck’s flat bill. I mean, even with ducks that have fairly narrow bills, like gadwalls, the flatness is pretty evident as soon as you see the bird turn its head in even slightly in your direction. This pretty creature has a distinctly *sharp* beak, something you’d definitely not want to contact your skin at high speed.

    1. Yes, but remember too that Mergansers are true ducks despite their rather narrow, serrated, non-flattened bills. Nonetheless,I agree that Gallinules would not normally be confused with ducks by experienced birders, but not all readers of this site fall into that latter category.

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