Photo: Sam Fried/Audubon Photography Awards

Common Gallinule

Gallinula galeata

Adaptable and successful, this bird is common in the marshes of North and South America. It was formerly considered to belong to the same species as the Common Moorhen, widespread in the Old World. The gallinule swims buoyantly, bobbing its head; it also walks and runs on open ground near water, and clambers about through reeds and cattails above the water. Related to the American Coot and often found with it, but not so bold, spending more time hiding in the marsh.
Conservation status Undoubtedly has declined over much of range owing to loss of wetlands. Still widespread and may be locally common where good marsh habitat exists within historical range.
Family Rails, Gallinules, Coots
Habitat Fresh marshes, reedy ponds. May be on still or slow-moving waters. Favors fresh marshes with some open water, ideally with some open ground and some dense cover along margins. Sometimes on more open ponds with only small amount of marsh cover. Found with American Coot in many places, but requires more marsh growth.
Adaptable and successful, this bird is common in the marshes of North and South America. It was formerly considered to belong to the same species as the Common Moorhen, widespread in the Old World. The gallinule swims buoyantly, bobbing its head; it also walks and runs on open ground near water, and clambers about through reeds and cattails above the water. Related to the American Coot and often found with it, but not so bold, spending more time hiding in the marsh.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • immature (1st yr)
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages while swimming, walking on land, or climbing through marsh vegetation. While swimming, may dip head underwater, or may up-end with tail up and head down; sometimes dives.


Eggs

8-11, sometimes 5-13. Buff, irregularly spotted with brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 19-22 days. Young: Can swim well shortly after hatching. Young fed by both parents, sometimes by older siblings from earlier broods; gradually learn to feed themselves, finding most of own food after about 3 weeks, though still fed sometimes by parents past 6 weeks. Young capable of flight at 40-50+ days. 1 or 2 broods per year, rarely 3.


Young

Can swim well shortly after hatching. Young fed by both parents, sometimes by older siblings from earlier broods; gradually learn to feed themselves, finding most of own food after about 3 weeks, though still fed sometimes by parents past 6 weeks. Young capable of flight at 40-50+ days. 1 or 2 broods per year, rarely 3.

Diet

Omnivorous. Major food items include leaves, stems, and seeds of various water plants, also fruits and berries of terrestrial plants. Also eats insects, spiders, earthworms, snails and other mollusks, tadpoles. Sometimes eats carrion, eggs of other birds.


Nesting

In courtship, male chases female on land; both stop, bow deeply, preen each other's feathers. Other displays involve lowering head and raising tail, exposing white patches under tail. Nest site is in marsh over shallow water, sometimes on ground or in shrub near water. Nest (built by both sexes) is solidly constructed platform (or wide, shallow cup) of cattails, bulrushes, reeds; often has a ramp of similar material leading down to water. Similar platforms built nearby, may be used for resting or brooding.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Probably migrates at night. Some southern and coastal populations evidently permanent resident. Occasionally strays far from normal range.

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Migration

Probably migrates at night. Some southern and coastal populations evidently permanent resident. Occasionally strays far from normal range.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Squawking and croaking notes similar to those of coots.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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