The Common Gallinule

by Kyle Sweet, Sanctuary Golf Club Superintendent

The Common Gallinule is common throughout marshes in both North and South America. Formerly it was referred to as the Common Moorhen, but in 2011 the American Ornithologists Union voted to split the American population of the bird into it’s own seperate species, the Common Gallinule. The Common Gallinule and its relative, the Common Moorhen ( elsewhere in the world ) are the most commonly seen members of the Rail family around much of the world.

The Common Gallinule spends much of its time walking along the edge of the water, foraging as it climbs amongst reeds and cattails above the water. It can often be seen with another relative, the American Coot, where the two share the same habitat and feeding behaviors.

Often, the nest in emergent vegetation just above the water. Plants such as Spike Rush and Black Rush that grow all along the golf course lake edges seem to be favorite nesting site choices. They are very protective of the nests, often being very vocal, swimming rapidly and even coming out of the water to approach those that get too close the nest. There can be up to 13 eggs in a nest, so obviously there is much to protect!

The young can swim well shortly after hatching and are fed by both parents. A trail of these black “puff balls” is a welcome site in early summer as many pairs of these birds breed each year on the course.

The Common Gallinule is omnivorous, with major food items being leaves, stems, and seeds of various plants for their vegetarian taste. Beyond the vegetation, they also enjoy insects, spiders, earthworms, snails and other mollusks.

It’s common for the Common Gallinule to be heard before it’s seen. An up close look at this seemingly mundane birds reveals a unique beauty that can be easily enjoyed all throughout our freshwater habitats here on Sanibel. Keep your eyes out for the young gallinules that will be showing up soon! Enjoy!

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