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Porphyrio madagascariensis (African purple swamphen, Purple gallinule) 

[= Porphyrio porphyrio

Grootkoningriethaan [Afrikaans]; Edenene (generic term for gallinules and moorhens) [Kwangali]; Nhapata (generic name for coot, gallinule, moorhen, crake or rail) [Shona]; Purperkoet [Dutch]; Talève d'Afrique [French]; Purpurhuhn [German]; Caimão-comum [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Gruiformes > Family: Rallidae

Porphyrio madagascariensis (African purple swamphen, Purple gallinule)  Porphyrio madagascariensis (African purple swamphen, Purple gallinule) 
African purple swamphen. [photo H. Robertson ©] Rondevlei Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Porphyrio madagascariensis (African purple swamphen, Purple gallinule) 
African purple swamphen swimming near a flooded reedbed, Rondevlei Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across sub-Saharan Africa, including southern Africa, where it is locally common in northern and eastern Botswana, patches of Namibia, Zimbabwe, the coast of Mozambique and South Africa, largely excluding the Northern Cape and the interior of the Eastern Cape. It generally prefers freshwater or brackish ponds, sluggish rivers flanked by reeds (Phragmites) and sedges, marshes, swamps and seasonally flooded wetlands.

Distribution of African purple swamphen in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  





Recorded by June Stannard, 1963, [© Transvaal Museum]


Predators and parasites

  • Predators

    • Crocodylus niloticus (Nile crocodile)

Movements and migrations

Mainly resident and sedentary, although it moves away from seasonally inundated areas (such as the Nyl River flood plain, South Africa) in the dry season.


Omnivorous, mainly eating plant matter supplemented with invertebrates, frogs, fish, carrion and bird eggs and nestlings. It does most of its foraging by clambering around low vegetation, biting off plant stems and looking underneath floating vegetation for invertebrates. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, facultative cooperative breeder, meaning that the breeding pair are assisted by helpers. The male vigorously defends his territory by fighting and displaying to intruders.

  • The nest is built by the female with material provided by the male, consisting of a bulky, shallow cup of reeds, bulrushes, grass, and other water plants, sometimes lined with papyrus (Cyperus), grass leaves and flower heads or ferns.

  • Egg-laying season is from July-January, peaking from August-March.

  • It lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated mainly by the female, although assisted by the male and helper, for about 23-27 days.

  • The chicks leave the nest soon after hatching, and are cared for by both parents and helpers, taking their first flight at approximately eight weeks old.


Not threatened, although its numbers are decreasing locally due to disturbance, wetland drainage and removal of riparian vegetation.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.