Published On: Sat, May 21st, 2016

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND – SCARLET GARTERS AND CANDY CORN: COMMON GALLINULE

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Common Gallinule Gallinula galena, Gallineta Frente Roja (Spanish)

Common Gallinule, a bird with the common name with “common” in it, is one of the world’s most widespread species occurring on all continents but Australia and Antarctica. But its common name hasn’t always been common. Nor have scientists agreed with the nomenclature of the Old World and New World species. Play the name game from Water-hen, Marsh Hen, Swamp Chicken, Common Gallinule, Florida Gallinule, Black Gallinule, Common Moorhen to finally (?) Common Gallinule. I still think of it as the Common Moorhen, so named after its European counterpart. (In this case “moor” referred to “marsh” in the thirteenth century.) Due to its vocalizations, and its bill and frontal shield formation, DNA (DNA = Dang New Analyses) studies now separate those living in the New World from the Eurasian inhabitants as separate species.

Common Gallinule with candy-corn bill and scarlet garters

Common Gallinule with candy-corn bill and scarlet garters

Although its basic adult body is dark gray with brownish back and white-tipped flanks, it sports a candy-corn colored bill with a red garter on each greenish-yellow leg. Maybe the name serves a purpose since the Common Gallinule is slightly larger than a gallon jug or is that “gallin?” Typically the one pound male weighs more than the female moorhen. Guess that could be a lesson or a “less hen.”

A pair of Common Gallinules

A pair of Common Gallinules

PHOTO Close-up of bill and red frontal shield

As a year-round resident in the Yucatan, it resides at well-vegetated freshwater and brackish wetlands. A separate winter migratory population also occurs here. Pair bonds may be seasonal or last for several years. As an architect, the female constructs the nest from the vegetative materials the male delivers. Both incubate the eggs and take care of the young. Sometimes another female joins the pair and shares in egg laying and parental duties. Wonder how the male manages?

 

From earlier broods juveniles may serve as babysitters with the younger chicks by feeding them and leading them away from danger. By the way, the light gray/whitish juveniles lack the bill colors, the frontal shields above the bill, and the scarlet garters of the adults.

Adult Common Gallinule shields chicks under its body while a juvenile helper walks behind them

Adult Common Gallinule shields chicks under its body while a juvenile helper walks behind them

 

A chick begs the juvenile helper for food

A chick begs the juvenile helper for food

 

Juvenile and adult Common Gallinules may lift feet out of water while wading

Juvenile and adult Common Gallinules may lift feet out of water while wading

 

Common Gallinule chicks look like aliens with the vivid red and blue bald head, colorful bill, and claw-like wings. Those wing spurs on help them climb into a nest or grab onto vegetation.

Alien-looking Common Gallinule chick

Alien-looking Common Gallinule chick

 

This omnivorous species eats mainly seeds of grasses and sedges and some snails. Add insects to its diet part of the year. It can hunt on land or dip its head underwater to forage or sometimes dive to obtain food. Long skinny toes enable it to walk on top of certain water plants. Why it lifts its foot out of water isn’t known.

Adult Common Gallinule climbs a young mangrove to search for food

Adult Common Gallinule climbs a young mangrove to search for food

Juvenile and adult Common Gallinules may lift feet out of water while wading

A Common Gallinule dips its head searching for food

A Common Gallinule dips its head searching for food

 

One source stated it rarely eats algae or that it would climb to search for food. I beg to differ.

 

Common Gallinule feeds on algae

Common Gallinule feeds on algae

Juvenile Common Gallinule feeds on algae.

Juvenile Common Gallinule feeds on algae.

SOUND LINK:http://www.xeno-canto.org/297803

Common Gallinule calls

Common Gallinule calls

 

Even though the Common Gallinule is an abundant species, contradicting research illustrates the need for more studies and hopefully no more name changes.

 

WALK A COMMON OUTDOOR PATH AND DISCOVER THE UNCOMMON.

 

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about this species. http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/685/articles/introduction, Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview, Sal a Pajarear Yucatan Guia de Aves,  A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, Birds and Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, xeno-canto.org, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Gallinule/lifehistory

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/p_p_spp=140596

 

 

Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” photographer and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her column, published on the 7th and 21st of each month, features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and beyond. Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo

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  1. Diane Nunn says:

    Love this kooky lookin’ bird. Great photos and descriptions of the diverse activities and stages!

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