Gray-headed Swamphen
Porphyrio poliocephalus

At a Glance

Native to southern Asia, these big marsh birds have been established in Florida since the 1990s. First noted near Pembroke Pines in 1996, the population might have originated with birds that escaped from captivity after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Now widespread around marshes and ponds in southeastern Florida, where they may number in the thousands. Some authorities treat this bird as a subspecies of the Purple Swamphen, widespread in the Old World from southern Europe to southern Africa and New Zealand.
Chicken-like Marsh Birds, Rails, Gallinules, Coots
Low Concern
Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers
Flushes, Running, Swimming, Walking

Range & Identification


18" (46 cm). A big, ungainly marsh bird. Similar to the Purple Gallinule but noticeably larger, with thick, red, triangular bill, red frontal shield on forehead, and legs reddish, not yellow. Pale head is more grayish on males, more gray-blue on females. Mostly purplish blue body, blue-green wings, and conspicuous white undertail coverts.
About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Blue, Gray, Green, Purple, Red, White
Wing Shape
Broad, Rounded
Tail Shape

Songs and Calls

Call Type
Complex, Croak/Quack, Harsh, Honk, Scream


Shallow freshwater wetlands, including marshes, ponds, and flooded fields. Also will forage in open grassy areas near water, such as lawns and golf courses.



Each breeding female lays 3-7 eggs, but multiple females may lay in same nest. Eggs are tan or buff with darker brown spots. Incubation is by both sexes, and probably takes about 3 weeks.


Fed by adults at first. May start to find some of their own food within a few days after hatching, but adults continue to feed them for several weeks.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by wading along shorelines or in shallow marshes or wet fields, sometimes by climbing about in marsh vegetation, occasionally while swimming. Often stands on one foot and uses other foot to grasp plant stems and pull them up to beak.


Mostly plant material, including stalks, roots, leaves, and seeds of aquatic plants, especially spikerush in Florida. Also eats some insects, frogs, snails, and other small creatures, or scavenges food scraps left by humans.