Distinctive long-legged foragers

If you visit the wetlands and peer through the reeds, you may just spot a long-legged water dwelling bird with a large red crown. These native birds are Purple Swamphens (Porphyrio porphyrio), known as Kwilom (pronounced ‘quill-awm’) in the Noongar language.1

The Purple Swamphen is predominantly black, with purple-blue plumage on its breast, belly and neck, and a white undertail. They have a distinctive bright red bill which extends to the top of their head, forming a shield between their eyes.2 The birds are around 45 to 50 centimetres tall. They have large brown-red legs and long slender unwebbed toes that assist with walking and foraging in shallow water.3

swamphen swamphen-2014

Photos (left to right): Kimberley Page, Naomi Rakela.

These native Australian birds roost in freshwater, slightly saline wetlands, streams and marshes, although can also be found around grasslands and pastures.2 The Purple Swamphens have a reputation for being aggressive towards other waterfowl, signalled by their harsh screaming call.3 They forage in shallow water and on land for aquatic vegetation, preferring reeds and rush shoots. These omnivores have also been known to occasionally feed on small animals such as frogs, snails and birds.4

Breeding season is between July and December, however can take place any time of the year. They often breed in solitary pairs or small groups, nesting in trampled reeds lined with softer grasses.4 Chicks are fluffy black, with similarly long legs and a more conspicuous reddish brown crown.3

Considering the size of the Swamphen, they are quite proficient fliers. Their dangling legs and elongated toes may make them appear awkward. They are very capable swimmers, however prefer to simply roam along the water edges.5


Distribution map of the Purple Swamphen.
Map: Department of Parks and Wildlife.



1A hen in the swamp, iNSiGHT News Simon Cherriman

2Aquatic invertebrates and waterbirds of wetlands in the Avon region, Department of Parks and Wildlife

3Purple Swamphens, Centennial Parklands

4Atlas of Living Australia

5Purple Swamphens, Birds in Backyards