Common Moorhen/Common Gallinule

Gallinula galeata
Common Moorhen/Common Gallinule specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

Slightly smaller than the American Coot (Fulica americana), the Common Gallinule (14 inches) is most easily identified by its brown back, dark gray breast, and red “shield” on forehead. Other field marks include a yellow-tipped red bill, dull green legs, and white flanks. Male and female Common Gallinules are similar to one another in all seasons. The Common Gallinule breeds in scattered locations throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada, with smaller numbers breeding in the western U.S. In winter, birds breeding in the northeast migrate south and to the coast. Most western birds, as well as those breeding along the coast of the southeastern U.S. and populations breeding further south in Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies, are non-migratory. Common Gallinules breed in relatively deep freshwater or brackish marshes. This species utilizes similar habitat types in winter as in summer. Common Gallinules primarily eat seeds and other plant matter, but may also eat snails and other plant matter, especially during the warmer months. Common Gallinules may be observed feeding by picking seeds off of the surface or by submerging their heads to feed on underwater plants. This species may also be observed walking on the shore or running along the surface of the water while attempting to become airborne. Common Gallinules are primarily active during the day; however, this species does migrate at night.

DC Information

Uncommon breeder and migrant in brackish ponds, occasionally in freshwater ponds. Seen generally from April to November, nests from early May to mid-July. Sexes are similar.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC46667 Gallinula galeata (Common Gallinule)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC48559 Gallinula galeata (Common Gallinule)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC48560 Gallinula galeata (Common Gallinule)