(2028) Porphyrio poliocephalus poliocephalus.
THE INDIAN PURPLE MOORHEN .
Gallinula poliocephala Lath., Ind. Orn. Suppl., p. 68 (1801) (India). Porphyrio poliocephalus. Blanf. & Oates, Avifauna B. I., iv, p. 178.
Vernacular names. Kaim, Kalim, Kharim, Khima (Hin.) ; Nila boli-kodi (Tel.) ; Kittala (Cing.) ; Indura kukula (Cing., South Province) ; Sannary (Tam., Ceylon); Kaim-Sorai (Assam) ; Dao-di Gatang-lili (Cachari); Lili jal-kauri (Sylhet).
Description. Lores and upper part of the head pale dingy grey-brown changing into deep purple-blue on the rest of the upper plumage; tail black with green reflections; exposed portions of the wings and scapulars greenish-blue; the outer primaries more blue, the innermost secondaries centred darker bronze-green, which shows up more as the blue-green edges become abraded; sides of the head grey tinged with cobalt-blue; chin, throat and fore-neck dull, pale cobalt-blue grading into darker greenish-blue on the breast; abdomen and flanks purple, showing obsolete pale edges, often absent; vent blackish-brown; under tail-coverts white.
Measurements. Wing 244 to 271 mm.; tail 82 to 108 mm.; tarsus 88 to 90 mm.; culmen 41 to 49 mm. Unlike most of our water-birds the female of this species is quite as big as the male and the largest measurements given above refer in each instance to a female.
Colours of soft parts. Iris deep blood-red, more brown-red in females and young birds; bill and casque blood red-brown, generally paler at the tip and more brown in the centre of the casque and the centre of the lower mandible; legs and feet pale dingy-red to dull red, browner at the joints; claws dull red, darker at the tips.
Female like the male but with a smaller casque.
Young in down black with white shafts to the down of the head and wings. Bill green at the tip, blackish at the base.
Distribution. Throughout the plains of India, Burma and Ceylon, wherever there are swamps, lakes and sufficient water. In Mesopotamia and Baluchistan our Indian bird is replaced by a very closely-allied race P. p. seistanicus; this form may possibly be found later on within the limits of this work. In the Malay Peninsula P.p. edwardsi takes the place of our bird. In this race the wings and upper plumage are dark bronze green-brown and possibly its status should be that of a species rather than that of a subspecies.
Nidification. The Purple Moorhen breeds throughout its range during the rainy season, i. e., in Ceylon principally from February to April and in Northern India from the end of June to September. The nest is a rather massive affair of rushes, reeds and water-weeds, placed either in among dense reeds or on floating lilies and weeds and, where the bird is very common, half a dozen nests may be found quite close together. The eggs vary from three to seven, four or five forming the normal clutch. In colour they are like richly-coloured well-marked eggs of the Moorhen, the groundcolour varying from pale pinkish or yellowish-buff to a warm buff or reddish-buff. The markings consist of small blotches and spots of reddish-brown, scattered sparsely over the whole surface. One hundred eggs average 50.5 x 35.7 mm.: maxima 54.6 x 36.9 and 52.1 x 37.2 mm.; minima 45.7 x 36.1 and 49.3 x 34.2 mm.
Habits. The Purple Moorhen keeps almost exclusively to weedy lakes and swamps, where it wanders about feeding on aquatic vegetation and on insects and small mollusca. It is fond of clambering about on the reeds, climbing them hand over hand like a clumsy Heed-Warbler. They are noisy birds, uttering loud cacklings, grunts and hoarse rippling notes and, where they have not been harassed, are very tame and tolerant of observation. The Indians esteem its flesh very highly and it is consequently much persecuted in most places.