Portraits of Wildflowers

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Pukeko 3169

Here’s a bird most of you won’t ever have seen or even heard of, the pūkeko,* Porphyrio melanotus. I photographed this one on February 4 in Shakespear** Regional Park at the eastern tip of the Whangaparaoa*** Peninsula north of Auckland.

For more information about the pūkeko, which unlike the kiwi can still fly, check out New Zealand Birds Online.


* A bar (technically called a macron) over a vowel indicates that the vowel is to be pronounced for a longer time than regular vowels. Many languages (but not English) make a distinction between long vowels and regular vowels, so that would be a different word from pa and have a different meaning.

** That’s not a typo: there’s no e at the end of Shakespear. The name that’s now most commonly spelled Shakespeare was historically spelled in various ways.

*** In words of Māori origin, wh is pronounced f.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 13, 2015 at 5:30 AM

59 Responses

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  1. Ist der hübsch !!!


    March 13, 2015 at 5:33 AM

  2. I’ve discovered in my historical and genealogical research a maddening (by our standards) inconsistency in the spelling of surnames.


    March 13, 2015 at 5:58 AM

  3. He’s a beauty, I don’t think I saw one 😦


    March 13, 2015 at 6:35 AM

    • Sorry you missed this one, Jude. I also managed to see its once-thought-extinct relative, the takahē.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 13, 2015 at 3:53 PM

  4. The link said it was about the size of large chicken.

    Jim in IA

    March 13, 2015 at 6:50 AM

  5. you’re getting tricky! i saw the title to the post and expected another exotic tree or flower. ja, was i ever wrong! that’s a beauty of a bird!

    • The words pōhutukawa and pūkeko share some letters, it’s true, but you can see how different the things they represent are. I was out for variety, but I see how you could read deviousness into that.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 13, 2015 at 3:57 PM

  6. Well, look at that. This beauty reminded me immediately of our purple gallinule, which belongs to the same order and family: Gruiformes and Rallidae. I see from the site you linked that this version also is called the purple gallinule or swamp hen, which is another common name for it in Texas and Louisiana.

    They’re beautiful birds, and this is a striking photo.


    March 13, 2015 at 7:58 AM

    • Here’s a link for the gallinule on the Cornell site.


      March 13, 2015 at 8:01 AM

      • I noticed in your link that the purple gallinule of the Americas has extremely long toes. That’s a distinguishing feature of the pūkeko as well, and gives it similar advantages.

        Steve Schwartzman

        March 13, 2015 at 7:01 PM

    • It’s ironic that I should have seen the New Zealand “purple” gallinule but not the American one that’s no more than a few hours away. I’ll have to remedy that failing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 13, 2015 at 7:25 PM

      • Here’s one of the most interesting articles I’ve read about any bird. It’s titled “Purple Gallinule Vagrancy in the North Atlantic, November 2013 – February 2014”. It seems these birds like to get up and go. They’ve been found in Italy, Portugal, the Galapagos, Iceland, and elsewhere. Not to put too fine a point on it, the gallinules seem to enjoy gallivanting.

        There’s a good bit of interesting scientific information about the whys and wherefores of their travel. I wonder if the pūkeko are as peripatetic?


        March 13, 2015 at 7:45 PM

        • I have often wondered if there is a connection between gallinule and gallivanting in the etymological sense. I have not found one.


          March 14, 2015 at 4:37 AM

          • I went looking myself, and decided they were unrelated, but they certainly do sound good together.


            March 14, 2015 at 6:59 AM

            • I don’t think you’ll find an etymological connection. Gallinule is based on Latin gallīna ‘hen.’ The origin of gallivant is uncertain, but the word may be an altered form of gallant, which can function as a verb. Of course our Gallivanta has also been known to be gallant.

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 14, 2015 at 7:55 AM

        • Well said that the gallinules seem to enjoy gallivanting. That’s a good article, and written in readable English (unlike many a scientific report). One thing that stood out to me was: “Numerous accounts describe how rails are counterintuitively strong fliers.” The first pūkekos I encountered preferred to walk away from me rather than fly, and in fact I never did see a pūkeko fly at all, so I was surprised to hear how well these birds can fly.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 14, 2015 at 7:16 AM

        • You may want to read the detailed comment by Gary (krikitarts) at the end.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 16, 2015 at 6:26 AM

          • Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I should add that the bird up above does look quite blue to me, too — almost an electric blue. It wasn’t the color that led me to make the connection as much as the body shape, the feet, and the shield on the face.


            March 18, 2015 at 8:52 PM

      • So much world, so little time. If you hadn’t trotted off to New Zealand, it’s unlikely I ever would have known one of our birds has a family member there. Here in Texas, I’ve seen two — at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge — and the others I’ve seen have been in Louisiana. They have a perfectly charming habit of walking across lilly pads and such while foraging.


        March 18, 2015 at 8:56 PM

        • I’ve read about the way their large feet keep them from sinking while walking across lily pads and the like. If the New Zealand version does the same, I never got to see it, because all the pūkeko I encountered were on dry land. In any case, I do need to spend some time at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 18, 2015 at 9:33 PM

  7. I have a fondness also for the purple swamp chickens!! I like Pukeko!! Interesting to see the range and variations of these species. I imagine New Zealand is wonderful to explore!


    March 13, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    • For someone who likes birds as much as you do, New Zealand is a great place. I encourage you to try to visit when you can (and not wait as long as I did).

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 13, 2015 at 9:45 PM

      • Its true, I’d love to visit the other down under!! I have friends in both New Zealand and Australia and someday should go visit!! What am I waiting for???? I am a confirmed arachnopobe and I’ve heard there are spiders in the outback that can bite you through your boots! Hopefully that is not where the birds are! 🙂

        I am thrilled that you did get the opportunity and your advice on not waiting so long to do things like that is well placed for everyone!


        March 13, 2015 at 10:22 PM

        • Given that you have friends in New Zealand, you have even less of a reason than most people for not making the trip. The plane ride is long and (unless you pay a lot of money) cramped, but what’s one day of tedium compared to all the things you’ll see and do after you arrive?

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 14, 2015 at 7:39 AM

        • Hi, Judy.

          You are talking about Australia poisonous snakes, spiders and other insects.

          New Zealand has no harmful animals like poisonous snakes, scorpions or venomous insects, so its sole poisonous native spider is the rare katipō.

          Māori knew of a poisonous spider that lived on or near some of the warmer North Island beaches. They called it the katipō, which means ‘night-stinger’. The scientific name is Latrodectus katipo.

          Only the adult female katipō bites. A fully-grown female is about the size of a garden pea. It is black, with a bright red stripe on its back.

          Katipō are naturally shy, and would probably only bite if accidentally squashed. Few New Zealanders have ever seen one, let alone been bitten. Despite their reputation, there is no solid evidence that anyone has died from a katipō bite in the last 100 years.

          So don’t wait too long. I’m sure you are going to love the beauty of New Zealand.


          March 18, 2015 at 4:18 AM

          • Thanks for that information distinguishing Australia, with its many poisonous creatures, from benign New Zealand, which I now know has only the rare katipō.

            The New Zealand Tourist Bureau should give you a commission for allaying people’s fears and enticing them to visit your wonderful country.

            Steve Schwartzman

            March 18, 2015 at 4:33 AM

          • By the way, I should add that Pam was the driver of the car who pulled over and let me get this picture of the pūkeko.

            Steve Schwartzman

            March 18, 2015 at 4:37 AM

  8. Purple swamp chickens? That is awesome!!! I love that. Of course, it looks blue to me….


    March 13, 2015 at 9:35 AM

  9. They do have a glorious plumage. They are common around where I live, but it seems I am destined to see them from in the inside of my car when I am driving and can’t stop.

    Raewyn's Photos

    March 13, 2015 at 1:44 PM

    • At Shakespear Regional Park I first saw a few pūkekos from inside a car, so I had the driver stop. When I got out and approached the birds, however, they retreated before I could get any pictures. I changed strategy and had the driver pull up alongside another pūkeko with my side of the car facing the bird. I lowered my window but didn’t get out, and this time the bird stayed in place while I took pictures with my telephoto lens from inside the car. The fact that we were on a small road in a park made the stopping possible; as you pointed out, on a highway it would have been difficult or impossible. Maybe you can seek out some pūkekos in a park or reserve near you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 13, 2015 at 9:51 PM

      • Ah, so that is how you got such a wonderful photo. I need to be stealthier in my approach.


        March 14, 2015 at 4:33 AM

        • I turned the car into what we call a blind, and what you may call a hide. Let’s see what wealth of pictures comes your way with a healthy dose of stealth.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 14, 2015 at 7:46 AM

          • We do have a wonderful bird watching area called Travis Wetland. There are hides there where I could wait for a good shot.


            March 14, 2015 at 9:18 PM

  10. At first I thought they are what we call purple swamphens (Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus) at our local ponds and lakes but looking at it more closely I think I see some differences. Well I guess there has to be since yours is in New Zealand. I notice on your link that they have another common name of purple swamp hen also. My next post (which will be very late) will have a picture of our particular species. Very interesting, Steve.


    March 13, 2015 at 11:40 PM

    • One New Zealand bird book I consulted classifies the pūkeko as Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus, and another as Porphyrio porphyrio, so this does appear to be the same species you have in Australia. The article that shoeracres linked at


      describes how far afield the North American species has been found, and the Antipodal species might be an equally long-distance flyer.

      We look forward, Jane, to your related post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2015 at 7:27 AM

  11. It does resemble a purple gallinule as mentioned above. And it does resemble a purple chicken…also mentioned above. In the linked picture it also makes me think more of a purple turkey. I am just saying purple to be agreeable…I see it as blue also.

    Steve Gingold

    March 14, 2015 at 5:42 PM

  12. Perfecta! Increíble ave.

  13. According to New Zealand’s Taranaki Educational Resource: Research Analysis and Information Network (TER:RAIN), Pukeko are not indigenous to New Zealand but occur across many South Pacific Islands and in Australia, Southern Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe (Spain and Portugal), Central America, and Florida. They are classified as a single species, porphyria, with six subspecies. The swamphens which colonized New Zealand probably flew across from Australia a thousand years ago. Though New Zealand has the same subspecies as Australia, they are slightly larger than the Australian neighbors.

    The purple gallinule, which is common in Florida and Central America, has the subspecies name martinicus, and though similar in appearance, has distinct differences.

    In New Zealand, pukeko are extremely adaptable and are often seen near streams, wetlands, estuaries, and on short, damp pasture. I’ve seen dozens in the course of my travels and always hope to see another.


    March 15, 2015 at 9:05 PM

    • Thanks for all that information about purple gallinules (you know so much about them that maybe we should rename them purple Garynules). You mention that the subspecies martinicus is found in Central America and Florida, but purple gallinules inhabit Texas as well. I looked in the 1993 book The Birds of Texas, where John Tveten used the scientific name Porphyrula martinica (which reflects the belief that there are different species of purple gallinules), and found this: “The purple gallinule breeds in the eastern half of Texas, westward sparingly to Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio….” Maybe I’ll come across one here someday, but for the moment the only kind of purple gallinule I’ve seen is the one I had to go half way around the world to encounter.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 16, 2015 at 6:22 AM

  14. […] you remember the pūkeko that appeared here in the first round of New Zealand pictures. Well, this is its flightless cousin, […]

  15. Wow! This is a beauty! Today I visited the park and saw the normal cast of birds, plus one new one – a Neotropic Cormorant. They eat lots of fish, and I wasn’t too happy to see it there!

    Thank you so much for the link and for stopping by.. Via a hurried scroll through the email notifications, I am able to see the new posts and the images. W/o scrolling, the posts load without the images. Then I hurry home and enjoy reading off line. Every post of yours is appreciated, and at times I chuckle, 0 like when the people stopped to be sure you were ok – there on the ground to get the best vantage point shot! Long ago in Natchez/MS, I often jogged to run errands in the downtown area near the B&B. Neighbors were almost always alarmed and would shout, “LIsa! Is everything OK?” It’s nice when people care, even strangers – especially strangers.

    I’m not sure if my comment reached you about your presentation – and the link you provided. It took several attempts to load via a youtube download option – sometimes only the audio came through – drats, but finally a success. I watched it twice!

    You’ve published so many stunning images, there’s no way to decide on a few favorites. Suffice to know that they are all admired and treasured, and it’s my loss to be at home when viewing them – and unable to provide that instant feedback.

    Although last week we were nudged back to ‘yellow’ – out of red restrictions, the Covid numbers here in this province remain high, and I’m told really bad here in Portoviejo. I remain guarded and venture out for essentials and for internet (almost next door) at a neighbor’s restaurant. Today I started a pot of guayusa, stevia, ‘Cuban Oregano’, and hibisicus tea then sat to do a simple watercolor wash over a study of bamboo leaves. .. then went into an almost instant meditation-type trance and forgot about the tea, which of course was totally dry and burning when I remembered! I am now at the restaurant to shake the cobwebs out of my head!!!!

    Note to self, do NOT – do NOT, sit down to paint if something is cooking in the kitchen!

    • I’m glad to hear everything’s going okay for you down there, and that los pájaros are providing plenty of entertainment, as your most recent post showed. When I checked online just now I found this:

      “In a letter signed by a third of the Catholic bishops in Ecuador, the prelates ask President Lenin Moreno to authorize the use of a bleaching agent as an “alternative medicine” to treat COVID-19. ‘We ask you to authorize the use of chlorine dioxide,’ said ten of the 30 bishops in the country in a letter to the president released on Thursday through the bishops’ conference website. The missive touched on the use of chlorine dioxide as a side note, with most of the text denouncing the corruption shown by some government officials during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Among other things, the bishops ask for the resignation of the health minister.”

      I’m reminded that guayusa and yerba mate are two species of Ilex, which is the same genus that includes the possumhaw and yaupon of Texas. Yaupon has caffeine in its leaves, and I’ve sampled a tea made from them. Too bad your potpourri of herbs ended up a pot écorché (scorched pot).

      Thanks for your appreciation of the pictures that have been appearing here. I’ve certainly enjoyed making them and pushing in new some new directions while still following the old. I don’t recall getting a comment from you about my presentation. If it didn’t make it through, we’ll chalk it up to your slow and unreliable Internet connection.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 13, 2020 at 6:40 AM

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