By Ali Holton
The Sunshine State is home to a diverse array of interesting and unique waterfowl species. One of those is the common gallinule, also known as the common moorhen. Common gallinules are medium sized birds that average around 12-15 in. in length and usually weigh less than a pound. Easily identified by their charcoal gray coloring, chicken-shaped bodies, white feather designs and distinctive red beaks, their most notable feature might be their oversized, yellow legs and feet. These large feet are especially useful for walking atop vegetation found in their desired wetland and marsh habitat.
If you’ve ever been to the Everglades, you are sure to have seen or heard these loud, widely dispersed birds. Found most commonly in wetland environments, they also live in marshes, lakes, ponds and canals that have a decent amount of vegetation for them to hide in and graze on. Common gallinules were made to survive in both freshwater and brackish wetland habitats with an omnivorous diet that primarily consists of algae, insects, tadpoles, small fish, seeds, snails and aquatic plants. They are quite buoyant and very strong swimmers who glide in the water, reminiscent of a duck.
Within the state, these birds can be found year-round as native, breeding residents. Similar to several other bird species, common gallinules are monogamous and typically lay between four and 12 eggs per brood. They have around one to two broods per year. Once hatched, the babies are quick to swim and can be found foraging with their mom, who will rear her chicks until they are old enough to fledge. This occurs at around 5 to 7 weeks of age. It is also typical for families to stick together, and older siblings can help raise new ones.
Common gallinules spend the majority of their lives in the water and around the water’s edge. This poses many threats to the species, as common gallinules face the risk of predation from foxes, alligators, coyotes and raccoons. They also encounter threats of habitat loss and habitat degradation due to human interference, development and pollution. We can help these beautiful, quirky birds by reducing our use of pesticides and herbicides, reducing our consumption and generation of waste and keeping our waterways clean for generations of species to thrive and survive.