• Welcome to BirdForum, the internet's largest birding community with thousands of members from all over the world. The forums are dedicated to wild birds, birding, binoculars and equipment and all that goes with it.

    Please register for an account to take part in the discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.
ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

Australasian Swamphen - BirdForum Opus

Adult P. m. melanotus
Photo © by Neil
Sydney, Australia, February 2005
Porphyrio melanotus


Photo © by julien
Ballarat, Lake Wendouree, Victoria, Australia, February 2005

38–50 cm (15-19¾ in)

  • Red bill and frontal shield
  • Orange legs and feet
  • Long, slim toes.
  • Black back and head
  • Eyes are red

Females are smaller than males. Juveniles are similar to adults but duller, with black eyes and black bill and shield that turn to red around 3 months of age.

Similar Species

Rare Takahe is about twice the size (in weight) and flightless, with a green back and wing cover. Juveniles may be confused with the Spotless Crake which lacks a frontal shield and has a more slender bill. Dusky Moorhen is more likely to be seen swimming, and is smaller and greyer with a yellow tip to its red bill, and a dark centre to its white undertail. Black-tailed Native Hen is much smaller with a green-and-orange bill, white spots on its flanks and a longer black tail.


Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Moluccas and Lesser Sundas, New Caledonia, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Fiji.


Formerly considered conspecific with African Swamphen, Grey-headed Swamphen, Black-backed Swamphen, Philippine Swamphen and Western Swamphen under the name Purple Swamphen.

Photo © by julien
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, November 2007


Five subspecies recognized:

  • P. m. pelewensis:
  • Palau Islands (Koror and Anguar)
  • P. m. melanopterus:
  • P. m. bellus:
  • P. m. melanotus:
  • P. m. samoensis:


Reed beds and wet areas with high rainfall, swamps, lake edges and damp pastures.


The birds live in pairs and larger communities.

Photo © by fthsm
Olympic Park, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, October 2008


The birds make a nest of woven reeds on floating debris or amongst reeds. More than one female will use the nest and they share incubating the eggs for 24 days. Each bird lays 3-6 speckled eggs and the nest can contain up to 12 eggs.


Diet includes tender shoots and vegetable-like matter, invertebrates (like snails), small fish, and eggs from nests and also eat ducklings. It is a good swimmer, especially for a bird without webbed feet.


Territorial ‘crowing’ is the loudest and most commonly heard call. A variety of contact calls including ‘’n’yip’, ‘hiccup’ and ‘squawk.’


No regular long distance migrations. Local seasonal movements, in response to changing habitat.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Trewick, S.A. 1997. "Flightlessness and phylogeny amongst endemic rails (Aves: Rallidae) of the New Zealand region." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. (352) 429-46.
  3. Sangster, G. 1998. "Purple Swamp-hen is a complex of species." Dutch Birding (20) 13-22.
  4. Gill, F & D Donsker (Eds). 2018. IOC World Bird List (v8.2). doi : 10.14344/IOC.ML.8.2. Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/
  5. Wikipedia
  6. Absolute Astronomy
  7. Dey, C.; Jamieson, I. 2013. Pukeko. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. http://www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
  8. Garcia-R, J. C. & Trewick, S. A. 2015. Dispersal and speciation in purple swamphens (Rallidae: Porphyrio). Auk 132(1): 140-155. PDF
  9. Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1993. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2, raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
  10. Ripley, S. D., Lansdowne, J. F. & Olson S. L. (1977) Rails of the world: a monograph of the family Rallidae. Godine.
  11. Taylor, B. (2017). Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/53681 on 28 March 2017).

Recommended Citation

External Links

GSearch checked for 2020 platform.