The Arcata Marsh has long been a favorite spot for bird watchers, with hundreds of species of birds making their home in the damp fields and ponds. Migratory birds have also been known to stop by the marsh for a visit, and our latest bird traveler – a Purple Gallinule – made its first-ever known appearance in Humboldt last weekend.
“It’s unmistakably a Purple Gallinule, and the northernmost record for California,” Rob Fowler, a local bird expert and birding guide, said in an email to the Outpost. “And the first for Humboldt County.”
Local birder Greg Chapman said that bird was first spotted by Arcata resident Yana Valachovic and Nicole King of Berkeley, who noticed the visitor at the Arcata Marsh on Friday, Nov. 24.
Generally found in the wetlands of South America, Central America and the southeastern United States, the Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica) is a smallish bird, distinguished by purple, blue and green feathers, a bright red and yellow beak with a blue shield, and very long legs and toes. Juveniles are a pale brown and don’t get their brightly colored plumage until later in life, so the bird spotted in the marsh is definitely an adult, Fowler said.
Though they tend to hang out in warmer climates, Purple Gallinules are migratory birds and are very strong fliers, known to appear far outside of their normal range. Observations posted on eBird show that they have been spotted in western Europe, Canada and have even appeared in Iceland a couple of times. There have also been recorded sightings in California, but previously only in Southern California and the Bay Area. So, it’s pretty exciting to catch a glimpse of the brightly colored bird in our own backyard.
Last we heard, our purple friend was hanging out on Brackish Pond, where its image was captured by local wildlife photographer Laura Cutler at around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 26. Fowler also caught a good closeup of the bird on Sunday afternoon.
How long the Purple Gallinule will stick around, it’s hard to say. But Fowler did say that the bird seems to be pretty happy where it is for now, so it might decide to stay put for a while.
“It does seem to be doing well at the location where it’s at here,” Fowler said. “So who knows? Maybe it will winter!”
UPDATE: This article has been changed from its original version to include the first local sighting of the bird, made by Yana Valachovic and Nicole King.