Family Rails, Gallinules, Coots (Rallidae)

Least Concern

Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)


French: Talève sultane German: Purpurhuhn Spanish: Calamón común
Other common names: Purple Gallinule, European Swamphen (porphyrio), Indian Swamphen (poliocephalus), Black-headed Swamphen (indicus), Black-backed Swamphen (indicus or melanotus groups)

Fulica Porphyrio


, 1758,

Asia, America (= lands bordering the western Mediterranean Sea)


Races madagascariensis, pulverulentus and poliocephalus (incorporating all remaining races except nominate) have at times been considered separate species; melanotus and bellus, too, may be separate species. Unfortunately, however, the degree of variation within these groups of taxa makes a consistent phenotypic characterization problematic. Thorough evaluation of all taxa, involving morphometrics, plumages, vocalizations and genetics, seems the safest way forward in defining species limits in this complex. Numerous other races (at least 17) described. Thirteen subspecies presently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. p. porphyrio (Linnaeus, 1758) – Western Swamphen – E & S Spain, S France and Sardinia to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
  • P. p. madagascariensis (Latham, 1801) – African Swamphen – Egypt, sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar.
  • P. p. caspius E. J. O. Hartert, 1917 – Caspian Sea, NW Iran and Turkey.
  • P. p. seistanicus Zarudny & Härms, 1911 – Iraq and S Iran to Afghanistan, Pakistan and NW India.
  • P. p. poliocephalus (Latham, 1801) – Grey-headed Swamphen – India and Sri Lanka through Bangladesh, Andamans, Nicobars and N Myanmar to SC China (Yunnan) and N Thailand.
  • P. p. viridis Begbie, 1834 – Indochinese Swamphen – S Myanmar, S Thailand, Indochina and Peninsular Malaysia.
  • P. p. indicus Horsfield, 1821 – Sunda Swamphen – Greater Sundas to Bali and Sulawesi.
  • P. p. pulverulentus Temminck, 1826 – Philippine Swamphen – Philippines.
  • P. p. pelewensis Hartlaub & Finsch, 1872 – Palau Is.
  • P. p. melanopterus Bonaparte, 1856 – Moluccas and Lesser Sundas to New Guinea.
  • P. p. bellus Gould, 1841 – SW Australia.
  • P. p. melanotus Temminck, 1820 – Australasian Swamphen – N & E Australia and Tasmania to Kermadec Is, New Zealand and Chatham Is; migrates to New Guinea.
  • P. p. samoensis Peale, 1848 – Admiralty Is S to New Caledonia and E to Samoa.
  • Descriptive notes

    38–50 cm; madagascariensis male 528–687 (636) g, female 480–737 (556) g; nominate male 720–1000 (869) g, female 520–870 (724) g; ... read more


    Very vocal; repertoire rich and variable. Male has low, sonorous calls, sometimes ending with... read more


    Fresh or brackish, sheltered open waters, still or slow-flowing, fringed or overgrown by ... read more

    Food and feeding

    Omnivorous, but primarily vegetarian, taking shoots, leaves, roots, stems, flowers and seeds of aquatic and semi-aquatic plants. Principal... read more


    Mediterranean, mainly Mar–Jun; India and Pakistan, mainly Jun–Sept (SW monsoon); sub-Saharan Africa, in rainy season (possibly... read more


    No regular long distance migrations. Local seasonal movements, in response to changing habitat... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). In 20th century, nominate race has suffered marked decrease in already restricted range, often because of wetland drainage and also... read more

    Recommended citation

    Taylor, B. (2020). Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 28 February 2020).