Grey-headed Swamphen (Porphyrio polycephalus)

Grey-headed Swamphen (Porphyrio polycephalus)

One of the six species of the Genus Porphyrio (Purple Swamphens) and included in the family of Rails, Crakes and Coots (Family Rallidae), the Grey-headed swamphen (P. polycephalus) occurs from the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent to Southern China and Northern Thailand. Accidentally introduced to North America in the late 1990’s it is now found in many areas of south Florida and is likely to form an established part of Florida’s avifauna.

The large colourful bird is characterized with dark purple or blue coloration with white undertail coverts, red to pink legs and feet. The eyes are orange to red. Males are heavier them females and may have mostly greyish heads as against the blue heads of the females. The average weight of a male is 705 g (+/- 70 SD) while that of a female is 614 g (+/- 54 SD) and characterized by a large red bill and frontal shield. Although predominantly sedentary within its native range, it may disperse up to 300 kms in response to demand for water. The fossil history is unknown.

The birds inhabit shallow wetlands with emergent vegetation. They generally adapt to a wide range of habitats like freshwater, brackish, slow flowing, stagnant, marshes, lakes, ponds, rivers, dam margins, flood plains and sewage farms. This specimen was recorded from a road side contaminated pond at Bharatpur, Ragasthan in India with a rich growth of Eichormia along with Bronze winged Jacana and common moorhen.

The Porphyrio swamphens have a mainly herbivorous diet that incudes soft shoots of aquatic plants, however, they may also be opportunists and consume a wide range of feed material like birds, amphibians, reptiles, fishes, eggs, insects, arthropods, and mollusks. The long toes allow it to walk over a variety of flora. Walking and running are preferred.

Live plant material is uprooted and used in nest building. Both sexes bring in the nesting material but the construction is done primarily by the female.

The nest is about 31 to 38 cms in diameter with a depth of about 4.7 cms. Nests are generally built on thick floating vegetation specially Eichhornia crassipes in India. The clutch size is about 4 to 5 eggs in India and is regulated by food availability. Incubation is for 19-22 days in India starting from the penultimate egg. Parents take turns incubating. Cooperative/Communal breeding has also been reported with the non-reproductive population also providing help.

Grey headed swamp hens are of ‘least concern’ as per the IUCN status.

©Srimaa Communication

Acknowledgements-Dr. Yashpal Singh, Mrs. Neena Singh, Mr. Rajesh Bedi, Manoj Kumar Yadav

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