Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2004-

Common name:

Purple Gallinule

Scientific name: Porphyrula martinica
Date: July 24, 2004
Time: ca. 930 AM MDT.
Length of time observed: ca. one minute
Number: 1
Age: adult
Sex: unknown
Location: Jordanelle Wetlands, two-tenths of a mile north of the lower (south) parking area with the stone pillars, west side of the road, between the road and the wetlands fence.
County: Wasatch
Latilong:   40 35' 10" N, 111 25' 37" W
Elevation: 5820'
Distance to bird: 15 - 20 feet
Optical equipment: binoculars, Nikon 9 x 25, Nikon 10 x 50.
Weather: clear and sunny, no wind
Light Conditions: full sun
Detailed description of bird: The bird appeared to be smaller than an American coot and larger than a Sora Rail, and more rail-like than duck-like in silhouette and stance, with a large, colorful bill,.  The back (mantle and wings) was a delicate shade of medium olive green.  The head, neck and visible body were a brilliant bluish-purple.  the bird had a large, whitish frontal shield between its eyes, and a bicolor bill that was red at the face, then yellow on the front 1/3 of the bill.  Neither Clay nor Cliftia noticed any white on the bird.  Clay did not see the bird's legs.  Cliftia caught a glimpse of the bird's legs, and said they were light colored.
Song or call & method of delivery: Clay can't hear birds.  Cliftia can hear birds, but has never heard either a Common Moorhen or a Purple Gallinule before.  Cliftia heard the bird make some sounds she said "seemed more like a Gallinule than a moorhen" based on the written descriptions in Sibley (2000).
Behavior: The bird was walking slowly in grass up to about its belly, facing north parallel to the road.  When we stopped on the shoulder of the road next to the bird, it first slowed and stopped, then slowly hunkered down a little. After a few seconds, the bird turned to face northwest, away from us, then cocked its head to look nervously back toward us for a few seconds.  The bird then slowly made its way west away from us through the grass toward the fence and tall cattails, where it disappeared into heavy cover.
Habitat: Grassy area between a paved road and a fence, adjacent to a small slough (open, slowly flowing water) and to dense cattails, in the Jordanelle Wetlands below Jordanelle dam.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
The only two remotely similar species in size and silhouette we are aware of are (possibly) the American Coot, and the Common Moorhen.  American Coots are a fairly uniform dull or slatey blackish color, with a somewhat duck-lie head and neck, and an obvious white bill.  According to published descriptions at hand when the bird was sighted (Alsop 2001), Peterson 1990, Sibley 2000, the Common Moorhen (the most similar bird) has a bicolor (red and yellow) bill, a brownish mantle and wings and a red frontal shield. The bird we observed had a red and yellow bill, was clearly a delicate olive green color on the back (and a brilliant bluish-purple on the head and neck), and had a large, whitish frontal shield between its eyes.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
Clay and Cliftia had no experience with Purple Gallinules.  Cliftia saw a Common Moorhen in 2001.  American Coots are plentiful most places we have birded.
References consulted: The Sibley Guide to Birds (Sibley 2000), Western Birds, Peterson Field Guide (Peterson 1990), Birds of North America, Western Region (Alsop 2001).
Description from: From Memory -- After the bird had disappeared, Clay and Cliftia spent about five minutes discussing the various key factors that had led each to conclude the bird was a Purple Gallinule, and just in general marveling at the bright, beautiful markings.  Clay wrote a note and description of the sighting to send to the webmaster at the Utah Bird website about 6:30 AM on Monday, July 26.
Observer: Clay Johnson, Cliftia Johnson
Observer's address: PO Box 31, Jensen, UT  84035-0031
Observer's e-mail address:  
Other observers who independently identified this bird: The Utah Bird website indicated that several Utah birders saw and photographed the bird on Monday and Tuesday, 26-27, 2004.
Date prepared: July 30, 2004   (General Public)
Additional material:  
Additional comments: