The purple gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus) is a medium-sized water bird with long legs and toes. It is known to swim like a duck, but can also walk on top of marsh vegetation due to its lengthy toes.
Purple gallinules are so named because they have dark purple heads, necks and undersides. The rest of their colorful bodies include a green back, light blue forehead, red-tipped bill and yellow legs. Gallinules are related to rails and coots. It differs from its cousin – the common gallinule – by its brilliant coloration. The common gallinule lacks that striking visual appearance in regards to color, and looks duller if both birds were side by side.
Purple gallinules do have some quirks. As if walking on lily pads wasn’t strange enough, these birds flick their tails nervously, nod their heads while swimming and regularly fly short distances with legs dangling to attract attention. While they are awkward fliers, purple gallinules do make trips to northern states and southern Canada as well as numerous flights to Europe and South Africa.
At CROW, an adult purple gallinule was found with a droopy wing and unable to fly. The bird was transported to the Sanibel clinic where veterinarians were able to determine it had a fractured right coracoid bone, which is connected to the shoulder blade and attaches part of the biceps. Due to no other wounds present, the fracture was likely caused by some type of blunt trauma, according to CROW medical staff. The bird was given pain medications and placed in a body wrap to stabilize the fracture.
“We use a type of tape bandage,” said Dr. Robin Bast, CROW staff veterinarian, in describing the material used for the body wrap. “It is easily removable and does not damage the feathers when we place and remove it.” The body wrap being easily removable is important due to the frequency of rehabilitation needed.
“The wrap is removed every three days during physical therapy, and then replaced to continue to stabilize the wing as it heals,” added Dr. Bast. “The gallinule is also receiving pain medications, fluids and nutritional support as well as physical therapy.” The body wrap and physical therapy process will continue for nearly a month.
“The bandage will be in place for three weeks, and then removed for a week of strict cage rest before the bird will be moved to an outside enclosure for further rehabilitation,” said Dr. Bast. Purple gallinules are not a common patient seen at CROW. This case reportedly marks just the ninth purple gallinule to be admitted in the past seven years.
“The patient will be with us for a few more weeks, but so far there have been no complications,” Dr. Bast said on June 30. “It will be a little while longer before we know if the fracture is healing appropriately, which will be determined using radiographs.”
CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.