Unlike many wetland species which have dull plumage to aid camouflage among the rank vegetation, the Purple Swamphen has a resplendent purple-blue neck, breast and belly, and a gaudy, oversized bill and frontal shield, both of which are bright red, as are its beady eyes. And when a Swamphen walks away from you, it usually flicks its tail up and down to reveal a gleaming white undertail, which contrasts with the bird’s black upperparts. The entire combination is dazzling when ambling across a sunlit grassy sward.
The Purple Swamphen is a large rail. It is mainly dusky black above, with a broad dark blue collar, and dark blue to purple below. As the Purple Swamphen walks, it flicks its tail up and down, revealing its white undertail. The bill is red and robust, and the legs and feet orange-red.
A loud, penetrating ‘kee-ow’, as well as some softer clucking between members of a group while feeding. Bird call recorded by: Marc Anderson
Purple Swamphens are common throughout eastern and northern Australia, with a separate subspecies common in the extreme south-west of the continent. Birds have transported themselves from Australia to New Guinea and New Zealand and throughout the islands of the south-west Pacific. It has been suggested that the New Zealand population of Purple Swamphens (locally called the Pūkeko) originated in Australia.
The Purple Swamphen is found around freshwater swamps, streams and marshes.
For such a bulky bird, the Swamphen is an accomplished flier and will readily take to the air to escape danger. In flight, the long legs and elongated toes trail behind or hang underneath the body. Purple Swamphens are proficient swimmers but prefer to wander on the edges of the water, among reeds and on floating vegetation.
The diet of the Purple Swamphen includes the soft shoots of reeds and rushes and small animals, such as frogs and snails. However, it is a reputed egg stealer and will also eat ducklings when it can catch them. The Purple Swamphen uses its long toes to grasp food while eating.
Purple Swamphens are generally found in small groups and studies have shown that these consist of more males than females. More than one male will mate with a single female. All family members, and occasionally the young from a previous brood, share in incubation and care of the young. The nest consists of a platform of trampled reeds with the surrounding vegetation sometimes being used to form a shelter. Often two broods will be raised in a year.