The Australian edition of the Guardian newspaper is running its annual Bird of the Year contest. In the 2021 version, the poll began with 50 species. Each day, the five birds that attract the lowest number of votes are taken out of the running. Several species have already dropped off the list, and the birds at the front of the flock are the ones most familiar to those in the populous South East. People vote for what they know.
Not appearing in this list — an oversight, surely — is the Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio melanotis). Not only are swamphens found across much of the country wherever there is freshwater (or something approximating it), but they are also large and colourful.
Look at them. That blue is almost regal. And the scarlet shield and beak give the bird a patrician profile. Yes, they tend to signal to one another by flashing their white backsides, and they make a noise, which, according to the Australian Bird Guide, begins with
and ends with
Oh, and although aquatic plants make up the bulk of their diet, they’ll catch and eat frogs, lizards, and the chicks of other waterbirds. Swamphens can hold and manipulate prey with their large two-toned feet.
But apart from that, they are noble and handsome.
Did I mention big? Noble, handsome — and stonkingly chonky. The Purple Swamphen is one of the larger members of the genus. It is outweighed only by the Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri) a giant flightless species from the South Island of New Zealand that was presumed extinct for half a century until rediscovered in a remote mountain valley. The Takahē is in a class of its own. (Although not taxonomically.)
What’s not to love? Next year, we’ll get this mad and magnificent bird on the list.