Purple swamphen.
Purple swamphen.

Briggsy’s birds: Interesting habits of familiar waterway resident

THE Purple Swamphen is a very colourful waterbird that can be seen just about anywhere there is a freshwater creek, swamp, lagoon or dam.

It is mainly dusky black above, with a broad dark blue collar, and dark blue to purple below.

As the Purple Swamphen walks, it flicks its tail up and down, revealing its white undertail. The bill is red and robust, and it has strong legs and feet which are orange-red.

It prefers to walk around the edges of wetlands looking for food but if it senses danger it will readily take to the air trailing its long legs behind it.

It is also a strong swimmer when it needs to be.

It eats the soft shoots of reeds and rushes and small animals, such as frogs and snails. However, it is a reputed egg stealer and will also eat ducklings when it can catch them.

It uses its long toes to grasp food while eating.

They socialise in small groups which have more males than females and the female will usually mate with more than one male.

The male has an elaborate courtship display, holding water weeds in his bill and bowing to the female with loud chuckles.

The nest is built on the edge of a wetland and often concealed in tall reeds or grass.

The nest is made by tramping down reeds to form a shallow bowl where the eggs are laid.

Both male and female will incubate the eggs and care for the young birds and often the young from the previous year will help out.

The chicks are an ungainly ball of fluff with huge feet and they follow the parents around as best they can but often stumble in the reed beds (see photo).

Allan Briggs is the secretary of BirdLife Capricornia. Contact him at abriggs@irock.com.au



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