September 17, 2020

We’ve Got Gallinules

GallinulesCullinan Park is home to two species of gallinules, striking birds that walk on floating lily pads and clamber through marshes on incredibly large feet.

The Purple Gallinule, seen at Cullinan from roughly April through October, is one of the most vividly colored birds in all of North America. Purple Gallinules combine cherry red, sky blue, moss green, aquamarine, indigo, violet, and school-bus yellow, a color palette that blends surprisingly well with tropical and subtropical wetlands. Watch for these long-legged, long-toed birds stepping gingerly across water lilies and other floating vegetation in White Lake as they hunt frogs and invertebrates or pick at tubers.

Common Gallinules are year-round residents that have mostly charcoal gray bodies with a brilliant red shield on their forehead, a red bill tipped in yellow and a white racing stripe down their sides. Formerly known as the Common Moorhen, these birds often make their presence known vocally first. Their loud clucking and whinnying calls can be heard daily from the Cullinan boardwalk. 

Members of the rail family, gallinules are omnivorous, eating a wide variety of vegetation, seeds, snails, frogs, spiders, fish and insects. They pick sedge, grass, pondweed, duckweed, and flower seeds from the water surface or just below the surface. They often flip over leaves with their feet to grab snails and insects hidden below.

Gallinule chicks are “subprecocial,” meaning they can walk around soon after hatching but cannot feed themselves for the first few weeks of life. They are fun to watch as they trail after their parents, begging for food and learning to forage for themselves.