Purple Swamphens' beaks

To: John Leonard <>
Subject: Purple Swamphens' beaks
From: Brian Fleming <>
Date: Tue, 16 Oct 2001 18:41:19 +1000
John Leonard wrote:
> Sitting by Lake Ginnindera in north Canberra today eating my lunch I
> came
> across a large lump of gristle in my 'roast roll'. I couldn't do
> anything
> with it, and so I threw it to  Purple Swamphen to see if it could make
> anything of it. It could, it immediately ran with it to the water,
> dunked
> it, and then proceeded to rip strips off it as easily as though it was
> damp
> paper, and gulp them down.
> While I was marvelling at this, I noticed that the PS's mate was busy
> chasing the local Moorhens away, and when the first PS had finished
> with the
> gristle it moved aside to let this bird feed too.
> Their beaks must be as sharp as scissors.
> %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%
> John Leonard (Dr)
> PO Box 243, Woden, ACT 2606, Australia
> %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%
> _________________________________________________________________

It's not just sharpness of bill, it's strength as well!
I have watched a Purple Swamphen biting through the rhizomes of Common
Reed plants and ripping them up out of the mud, I think gripping each
section with its foot, with the greatest ease. 
When I was younger and much stronger, I once tried to collect some reed
plants with a sharp spade. They are very very tough to hack through, and
getting them disentangled from the mud and root masses was almost
Once it had got hold of each six-inch section of root, the Swamphen held
it in its foot and chewed away at it, apparently sepaarating the starch
inside from the fibres. It then fed its well-grown fluffy chick from its
beak. In this way they rapidly ate up the chunk of root and discarded
the chewed fibre - then the parent bit off another chunk and did it
I don't think I ever want to handle a live Swamphen. I am sure they
could do a human serious damage.
Anthea Fleming in Ivanhoe.
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