In the reeds where it likes to forage for food, the Purple Gallinule stands out like a beauty contestant.
With shimmering purple and turquoise feathers, a distinctive red-and-yellow beak, a white patch on its face and bright yellow legs, this “Purple Gal” knows how to entertain a crowd. She struts slowly through the wetlands, giving you plenty of time to stand and admire.
Purple Gallinules are warm-weather birds. Though some nest in the summer as far north as South Carolina, they winter in Florida and points south. So when a Purple Gallinule somehow found its way to the Nation’s capital this past January, the news shot through birding circles there as if royalty had come to town. A photo of the bird on the ledge of a high-rise building was blurred, but the Gallinule’s bluish-green feathers were unmistakable.
We didn’t get a glimpse of that Purple Gallinule, but when we left Washington last month for a birding trip to Florida, the Gallinule was high on the list of species we hoped to track down. We got lucky, and so we decided to make it our Flying Lessons Bird of the Week.
We’ve found Purple Gallinules several times between South and Central Florida, glimmering like Disney princesses when the sun hits their feathers. This is one colorful female whose feathers are exactly as fancy as those of its male counterpart.
When we pulled into the Viera Wetlands preserve last week not far from Orlando, a Purple Gallinule was the first bird we saw. It’s a fresh-water marsh hen — about the size of a chicken — and tends to forage and peck like one, too. We spent an hour watching the Gallinule slowly work her way along the water’s edge until she climbed a tangle of weeds and set out on a gawky flight into the interior.
Here are some more photos of our time with this beauty of a bird.