At a Glance

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.
Chicken-like Marsh Birds, Rails, Gallinules, Coots
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas
Flushes, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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


13" (33 cm). Adult slaty with browner back, white stripe along side. Thick bill and frontal shield usually red and yellow, sometimes all yellow or brownish. Legs greenish. Immature paler gray with dull bill and legs, but shows white stripe on side.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Broad, Pointed
Tail Shape

Songs and Calls

Squawking and croaking notes similar to those of coots.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat, Rising
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Rattle, Raucous, Scream


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.



8-11, sometimes 5-13. Buff, irregularly spotted with brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 19-22 days.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Common Gallinule. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Common Gallinule

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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