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Speaking of Nature

Kids & Critters: A burst of color

The purple gallinule is one of the most colorful birds in North America.
(Bill Danielson photo)

The purple gallinule is one of the most colorful birds in North America. (Bill Danielson photo)

December is here and that mean that Christmas vacation will be upon us soon.

For many people this means a trip to see relatives in far off places. My students are already talking about their plans for the break and I am always interested to hear where they are going. Some have talked about Boston, while others have talked about New York City, but one of the most common destinations I have heard this year is Florida.

Most people who are headed down to Florida mention that they are going to see family. When I ask them what they might do in Florida they talk about going to the beach, or hanging around a swimming pool. Some talk about Disney World and a few weren’t sure what they were going to do. The only common response to any of my questions was when I asked if anyone had plans to go bird watching. Every single kid said, “no!”

This is too bad because Florida has some amazing birds to look for. Even more amazing is the fact that many of them can be seen in some of the oddest places. If you are going to Florida, and if you happen to find yourself near water while you’re there, I want you to keep your eyes peeled for one of Florida’s most amazing birds —the purple gallinule.

Now you will notice from the picture that the purple gallinule is an extremely colorful bird. Covered with red, yellow, green, blue, and purple, it might just be the most colorful bird I know of. You might think that a peacock is just as colorful, but it’s interesting to note that peacocks don’t really have any red. They are far larger birds that could arguably described as more impressive, but they don’t have as many colors as a purple gallinule.

The purple gallinule is a large member of the rail family. That being said, it is still on the small side. A good object that is relatively familiar to us is a football, which gallinules tend to resemble in size and shape. Their bodies might be a little smaller than a football, but footballs don’t have necks, or heads, or legs.

Gallinules like to hunt for food in shallow water, which is good because that keeps them close to the shores of ponds and marshes. Gallinules hunt for food by sight, so they have relatively large eyes and they are always moving around looking for the small fish, amphibians and insects that they like to eat. While they are moving, they use their huge yellow feet to support themselves on the vegetation that might float in the water.

Purple gallinules actually look a little like chickens, but when they start making noise they sound like toy horns. They can be very loud and do a lot of calling when they get too close to one another. Gallinules don’t like to share their food and they will bicker like siblings if one thinks another is trying to invade its space.

As always, I think it would be fun for you to draw a picture of a purple gallinule. You’ll be able to use most of the colors in a box of crayons or colored pencils and it might be funny to draw a red-and-white Santa hat on your gallinule’s head.

I haven’t received any drawings from anyone in a while and the Kid’s Corner page on my website could use some new pictures, so don’t be shy about emailing me a picture of your drawing. Just put “Gallinule Drawing” in the subject box so my computer knows where to put it.

Have a wonderful December and enjoy your Christmas vacation!

Bill Danielson has worked as a naturalist for 16 years. In that time, he has been a national park ranger, a wildlife biologist and a field researcher. He currently works as a high school chemistry and biology teacher. To contact Bill, or to learn more about his writing, visit www.speakingofnature.com

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