A great egret looks for breakfast at Calamvale Creek


Scientific stuff

Purple swamphen,
also called purple gallinule, sultana bird, blue waterhen

Porphyrio porphyrio
Family: Rallidae
45-50 centimetres (18-20 inches)

Large waterbird with bright red beak and frontal shield, purple or blue breast, dark wing feathers.

Legs are pink or orange, and feet are very large.

Lives among long grasses or reeds in freshwater ponds, creeks, and streams.

When walking, sometimes flicks tail up with each step showing a flash of its white underfeathers.

Differs from dusky moorhen by being larger, more brightly coloured, and by having no yellow tip on its beak (which dusky moorhens have).

Shy, wary, ready to run for cover if disturbed.

Using our photos

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Pru's photos

Pru belongs to a group of purple swamphens that spend most of their time around the lagoons and banks of Calamvale Creek.

Whereas the ducks divide their time between the Golden Pond wetlands and the downstream creek, the swamp hens prefer the longer vegetation around the margins of the creek.

The photographer said:
“The purple swamphens around the creek like to keep a distance of at least 10-15 metres from humans.

“They sometimes stray quite a distance from the water, but will always run for cover if they see you getting close.

“You can see them climbing or walking in strange places sometimes — along the wooden bridge at sunset, perched precariously on tree branches, and even walking along the fencetops of nearby houses.

“They are generally very sure-footed, but I did see one miss its footing on a branch overhanging the water. There was a great commotion as it suddenly tried to fly and get a foothold at the same time.

“Here's a photo of that incident.”

swamphen_falling (14K)

Critters of Calamvale Creek

Pru, the purple swamphen

also called purple gallinule, sultana bird, blue waterhen

Porphyrio porphyrio

purple_swamphen_1 (31K) Hello there. I'm Pru the purple swamphen from Calamvale Creek in Brisbane, Australia.

I'm called a purple swamphen, although in many parts of Australia my colour is more blue than purple.

To see my colour best you need to see me in full sunlight. I may look as dull as a dusky moorhen in bad light, but in bright sunlight my colours transform into a beautiful blue sheen.

Unlike some birds, purple swamphens keep our colour all through the year. Males and females may look similar to humans — but any swamphens reading this will know how to tell the difference.

Where do I live?

Porphyrio_porphyrio_5 (41K)

I like an environment of long grasses, reeds or other vegetation. At Calamvale Creek I generally avoid the upstream Golden Pond wetlands because they are too open, but I go as far as the riparian wetland (see map if you want to know where this is).

The advantage of having big feet

purple_swamphen_10 (31K)I have long toes that are perfect for climbing and walking along tree branches, scrambling over waterlily pads, and for keeping me surefooted as I walk slowly through the creek grasses.

I like to climb and rest in trees, on branches that overhang water.

You can nearly always find me around the creek's lagoons and vegetated margins. I am a good swimmer, but don't spend as much time swimming as the ducks, moorhens, and other waterbirds.

How far do I wander?

I sometimes wander 70 metres or more from the creek, but only if I know I can get back to cover quickly.

purple_swamp_hen_8 (41K)

I walk slowly when I am looking for food, and look clumsy when I fly, but I can move fast when I need to.

What do I eat?

purple_swamphen_2 (41K)I spend most of my food-gathering time sifting slowly through low vegetation for tender plant shoots, leaves, seeds, snails, spiders, and water insects.

I also eat larger objects, such as eggs and frogs, if I come across them when I am hungry. And I check around the wooden bridge every day to see whether anyone has left bread crumbs that the ducks and noisy miners have missed.

purple_swamphen_9 (26K)

The photo above shows me on my daily late afternoon stroll across the wooden bridge looking for food that visitors have left.

What's the difference between swamphens and moorhens?

Some people confuse those pint-sized dusky moorhens with us larger and grander purple swamphens. But here's the difference:

dusky_moorhen_swamphen (7K)Dusky moorhens have a distinct yellow tip at the end of their beaks. Swamphens don't.

If you can see the yellow, that's a moorhen.

Dusky moorhens are also smaller than we are — and darker brown. Purple swamphens have a distinct blue (or purplish) neck and breast, whereas the moorhens have brown on their wings and greyish blue on their chests.

Where do I nest?

Porphyrio_porphyrio_7 (32K)My nest is usually a trampled platform of long grass or reeds a little above water level. The surrounding grasses form a shelter.

I line the nest with softer leaves, softened reed stems and other fibres, and may have two broods in a year.

Purple swamphens form small groups that usually have more males than females. All members of the group share in incubating the eggs and caring for the new-borns, which may number from three to eight. Incubation is about three-and-a-half weeks.

Porphyrio_porphyrio_3 (30K)

I am perhaps the noisiest bird around the whole creek and wetlands. I have a nasal screech that is raucous and disruptive. It is especially rowdy at night. The only good point about my screech is that it is short — one or two quick bursts is usually enough to show all the other critters just who controls the creek.

— Pru, the purple swamphen