email a friend
printable version
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (extent of occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend is not known, but the population is not believed to be decreasing sufficiently rapidly to approach the thresholds under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

Taxonomic note
Porphyrio porphyrio (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) was split into P. porphyrio, P. indicus, P. madagascariensis, P. melanotus, P. poliocephalus and P. pulverulentus by Sangster et al. (1998), but this treatment is not adopted by the BirdLife Taxonomic Working Group. This is because although there is fair degree of variation between the continental forms of porphyrio (with the race pulverulentus the most distinct), a detailed analysis of character differences is required to determine levels of distinctiveness and variation. Pending such studies, porphyrio is retained as a single polytypic species.

Trend justification
The overall population trend is uncertain, as some populations are decreasing, while others are increasing, stable, or have unknown trends (Wetlands International 2006).

Behaviour This species is sedentary, nomadic or partially migratory, with many populations making local seasonal movements in response to changing habitat conditions (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (e.g. the drying of marshes) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). The timing of breeding varies geographically (in relation to peaks in local rainfall) (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It breeds in solitary territorial pairs (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998) (especially in pastures) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998) or in small communal groups containing several breeding males, breeding females and non-breeding helpers (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998) (especially in swamps) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). When not breeding the species occurs in pairs, small groups of 12 or more individuals (Africa) or in larger congregations of 50 to several hundred individuals (India and New Zealand) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). The species is mainly crepuscular and forages in the early-morning and late-evening (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Habitat It shows a preference for permanent, fresh or brackish, still or slow-flowing, sheltered, extensive wetlands (del Hoyo et al. 1996) with floating mats of water-lilies (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), tall, dense emergent vegetation (e.g. reeds Phragmites spp., Typha spp., sedge Carex spp., papyrus Cyperus spp. (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998), Scirpus spp. or Eleocharis spp. (Taylor and van Perlo 1998)), muddy or sandy shorelines and patches of shallow water (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It may however occur in saline, eutrophic or turbid wetlands, and may be found on small waters and seasonal or temporary wetlands (e.g. in Africa) (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Suitable habitats include ponds, lakes, dams, marshes, swamps, rivers, flood-plains, artesian wells, sewage farms (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and wet rice-fields (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). The species also extends into open habitats adjacent to wetlands including grasslands, agricultural land, parks, gardens, hedgerows and forest margins (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Diet Its diet consists predominantly of plant matter including shoots, leaves, roots, stems, flowers and seeds (e.g. of Typha spp., Scripus spp., rice, grasses, sedges, Rumex spp., Polygonum spp., water-lilies (del Hoyo et al. 1996), clover Trifolium spp., fern Salvonia repens, bananas, tapioca and yam Dioscorea spp. (Taylor and van Perlo 1998)). It also takes animal matter including molluscs, leeches, small crustaceans (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (Isopods, Amphipods and crabs) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), adult and larval insects (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (Coleoptera, grasshoppers, Hemiptera, Diptera, Lepidoptera) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), earthworms (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), spiders, fish and fish eggs, frogs and frog spawn, lizards (del Hoyo et al. 1996), water snakes Natrix maura (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), adult birds, bird eggs and nestlings, small rodents and carrion (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding site The nest is a shallow cup in a large substantial structure of vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1996) built on a platform of vegetation floating on or standing in shallow water (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998) 30-120 cm deep (Taylor and van Perlo 1998) and concealed in thick vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Management information There is evidence that the application of rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus control measures may lead to an increase in nest predation on this species by rabbit-specialising predators (New Zealand) (Haselmayer and Jamieson 2001).

The main threats to this species are habitat loss through wetland drainage (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998), habitat degradation through the introduction of exotic species (e.g. coypu Myocastor coypus) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), direct mortality from pesticide contamination (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Dowding et al. 1999) (e.g. brodifacoum, a pesticide applied aerially to exterminate rodents) (Dowding et al. 1999), poisoning by cyanobacterial toxins (from dense blooms of cyanobacteria in wetlands) (Alonso-Andicoberry et al. 2002) and hunting (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The species is also susceptible to avian influenza (Melville and Shortridge 2006, Gaidet et al. 2007) and avian botulism so may be threatened by future outbreaks of these diseases (Galvin et al. 1985).

Alonso-Andicoberry, C.; García-Villada, L.; Lopez-Rodas, V.; Costas, E. 2002. Catastrophic mortality of flamingos in a Spanish national park caused by cyanobacteria. Veterinary Record 151: 706-707.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Dowding, J. E.; Murphy, E. C.; Veitch, C. R. 1999. Brodifacuom residues in target and non-target species following an aerial poisoning operation on Motuihe Island, Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 23(2): 207-214.

Gaidet, N., Dodman, T., Caron, A., Balanca, G., Desvaux, S., Goutard, F., Cattoli, G., Lamarque, F., Hagemeijer, W. and Monicat, F. 2007. Avian Influenza Viruses in Water Birds, Africa. Emerging Infectious Diseases 13(4): 626-629.

Galvin, J. W.; Hollier, T. J.; Bodinnar, K. D.; Bunn, C. M. 1985. An outbreak of botulism in wild waterbirds in Southern Australia. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 21(4): 347-350.

Haselmayer, J., Jamieson, I. G. 2001. Increased predation on pukeko eggs after the application of rabbit control measures. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 25(1): 89-93.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Melville, D. S.; Shortridge, K. F. 2006. Migratory waterbirds and avian influenza in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway with particular reference to the 2003-2004 H5N1 outbreak. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 432-438. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Taylor, B. 1998. Rails: a guide to the rails, crakes, gallinules and coots of the world. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, UK.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S., Malpas, L. & Ashpole, J

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Porphyrio porphyrio. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, Coots)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Unknown
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 18,400,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- Projected distributions under climate change
- 2015 European Red List assessment