No mistaking this bird

Let’s Chirp with Tim Cockcroft

SKULKING ABOUT: The African swamphen lives in larger reedbeds and stands of bulrushes

GREETINGS fellow chirpers and chirperettes!

Sit back, relax and enjoy another edition of this birding column. This week we are going to take a look at one of the most strikingly colourful birds of our reedbeds, the African swamphen, formerly known as the African purple swamphen, formerly known as the purple gallinule!

This beautiful bird has very little chance of being mistaken for anything else, especially in our immediate area. The large size, heavy, all-red bill and “shield” on the forehead, purple and blue body, slightly duller green wings and white vent render this bird positively identified.

The only other bird for which it could be mistaken is the Allen’s gallinule, which is a fraction of the size and has a blue forehead “shield”. However, the Allen’s gallinule is seldom recorded in our area.

The African swamphen lives in larger reedbeds and stands of bulrushes. It is somewhat of a skulker, not often coming right out into the open, although it regularly emerges from the reeds and stays close to the edge, walking along and flicking its tail as it does so, flashing the conspicuous white undertail.

The huge feet and long toes help it walk on the reeds that are bent over the water. These long toes also assist the bird in its omnivorous feeding habits, as it holds its food while biting bits off.

When the African swamphen is skulking in the reeds, although it may not be seen, it can certainly be heard, even when not calling. The way it stomps through the reeds can be quite frightening if you don’t know that such a bird exists… you would think a herd of elephants is coming for you through the reeds!

The call is a series of strange, loud grunts and shrieks.

Well on that grunting note, it’s time to sign off for now. Remember I am available for birdwatching tours in our area. You can contact me on 072-314-0069 for more information. Until next time, happy birding!


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