Published On: Fri, May 7th, 2021

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND-A RAINBOW CONNECTION: PURPLE GALLINULE

“Someday we’ll find it

The Rainbow Connection

The lovers, the dreamers and me”

                              Kermit the Frog

Purple Gallinule with rainbow colors

Glimpses of rainbow feathers shine through the marsh grasses.

Rainbow feathers of Purple Gallinule among marsh vegetation

One Purple Gallinule feeds then another appears to dine on seeds some distance away. They walk toward each other and disappear into the vegetation. Perhaps they are a pair?

This Purple Gallinule dines on marsh flowers/seeds

Some reports indicate paired birds separate while roaming in their well-defended territory to feed and also to court. Aha, they are a pair! A territory can be as large as 200 X 30 feet (61  x 9 meters). The pair stay in contact by calling as in this recording:

https://www.xeno-canto.org/131146

Suddenly a gallinule emerges into an opening. It bows its head and neck into a deep arc as if to emphasize a rainbow.

Female Purple Gallinule in courtship display to attract her mate

I realize she is presenting herself to her mate. I don’t know how much time passes before her mate slowly approaches out of the vegetation. Eventually the male balances on her back and wings. Later she appears to bow so low that her head is almost between her legs. Scientists have named this posture, the squat arch. Not to be confused with “sass squats” although the female does appear rather sassy in her squat.

Male Purple Gallinule approaches female

Male gallinule prepares to mount
Female Purple Gallinule performs squat arch. Note her wings are held out from her body
She stands while he balances

Female gallinule squats down again

PHOTO 9 Male gallinule repositions
Courtship display finishes and male (in front) wanders off in a different direction

Mating seemsto occur; it’s a Rainbow Connection! They separate and go different directions as they continue to feed.

How easy to assume that was all of the courting process. I missed some initial parts of this ritual. And what I saw didn’t necessarily agree with what scientists have recorded such as the male holding on to her neck, her standing, etc. However, I admit I found little details about this species courtship. Recorded observations seemed as rare as Sasquatch sightings.

Once close to each other, they may begin their courtship displays. They may face each other. With neck forward and wings out at 90 degree angles, they both sway and lift one foot then the other. Often only the female does this and then the male walks onto the back of the female.

Other times both birds make a deep bow instead of swaying. Or sometimes after the wings are held at 90 degrees, one or both birds will prance and cross over the other’s path.

Additional courting activities include nibbling and billing along with the bowing, swaying, and by now, the famous squat arch.

I’ve never encountered courtship behavior of Purple Gallinules even though I’ve seen them for several years. In my opinion these images aren’t good due to bad light conditions of sun/shade and people shaking the boardwalk where I stood to photograph. To me it’s more important to share this sequence for documentation and to forego image quality. I was ecstatic to witness this phenomenon.

By the way, this gallinule species is slightly taller than a gallon jug of water. Hopefully it’s a “gallon you’ll” never forget! Plus this experience reinforces my belief of expecting something wonderful to happen in nature.

EXPERIENCE THE JOY OF DISCOVERY IN NATURE

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about this species:

https://genius.com/Kermit-the-frog-the-rainbow-connection-lyrics

https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/auk/v080n04/p0545-p0547.pdf

https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/purgal2/cur/behavior

https://www.outdooralabama.com/cranes-rails-and-allies/purple-gallinule

Eric DeFonso, XC131146. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/131146

Joseph I. S. Whitaker On the Breeding of the purple Gallinule in Captivity. October 1899 IBIS International Journal of Avian Science

502- 505

https://academic.oup.com/auk/article-abstract/80/4/545/5222875?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Sal a Pajarear,  Birds & Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and North Central America, The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds

by Cherie Pitillo

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