A beautifully colored bird of southern and tropical wetlands, the Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus) can be seen walking on top of floating vegetation or clambering through dense shrubs. Its extremely long toes help it walk on lily pads without sinking. All of the photos here are from the large colony of Purple Gallinule's that live on the north shore of Lake Harris in the area around Venetian Gardens.
Purple Gallinules are swamphen in the rail family, Rallidae. Also known locally as the yellow-legged gallinule. Some people refer to them as a 'Coot' because they do resemble a coot, only one that has much more elaborately colored plumage.
The species inhabits warm swamps and marshes in the southeastern states of the United States but is not widespread in Florida. It also inhabits the tropical regions of Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America. This species is resident in Florida and the tropics, but most North American gallinules are migratory, wintering south to Argentina. Not so this flock which seems quite content on Lake Harris.
They nest on a floating structure in marshes. Five to ten eggs, buff with brown spots, are laid. American purple gallinules are omnivorous; their diet includes a wide variety of plant and animal matter, including seeds, leaves and fruits of both aquatic and terrestrial plants, as well as insects, frogs, snails, spiders, earthworms and fish.
The flock on Lake Harris is very vocal, playful and friendly, likely because they've been fed by humans for some time.
Where to See Purple Gallinules in Florida?
To get a good look at the flock pictured here arrive in Leesburg about an hour before dark. Just west of the Leesburg Regional Medical Center on SR44 take Dixie Avenue and park along Dozler Circle or Ball Park Road. This will be the beginning point of a mile long (each way) walk through the old amusement park gardens and lagoons.
Walk the trail from the north parking area at Venetian Gardens south to Ski Beach (on Lake Harris Drive). You won't be disappointed. In this little cove of giant Lake Harris you'll walk over many bridges and see all sorts of wildlife, especially birds, but most vocal and entertaining will be the Purple Gallinules. They are either mating or playing, chasing one another across the cow lilys along the nearshore of the lake. Some will walk up to you and demand food.
They talk. A lot. They sound more like a troop of moneys than birds, and that is part of their charm. Their awkward feet will remind you of a chicken's feet, only larger, and you'll be amazed at how they manage to swim without any webbing on their feet. Their swim is awkward, but effective.