A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Common Gallinule is not uncommon in Sonoma County, but it can be hard to see because of its reclusive habits and restricted habitat. Common Gallinule is usually found in reeds or other dense vegetation at the edges of lakes or ponds. May be solitary or in small, loosely associated groups. Often seen with Coots (Fulica americana). Probably best seen in the county at Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility or Spring Lake. Known to breed in Sonoma County, but confirmed nesting records are few. Formerly known as Common Moorhen with the latin name Gallinulla chloropus and considered conspecific with what is now Eurasian Moorhen (which retained the Latin name Gallinula chloropus). The North American bird has been assigned Gallinula galatea, but older references will call it Common Moorhen, as (Gallinula chloropus).

Common Gallinule is mostly a dark slate grey, but the head and neck shade toward black and the back is a bronzy brown, often with hints of olive. The bright red facial shield and bill tipped with yellow are distinctive. Broken line of white along the flank. Outer undertail coverts are white. Yellow legs and feet but may be greenish-yellow. Juvenile birds are a washed out brownish color with a wash of white at the throat. They lack the two-tone bill. Legs darker than adult. Winter adults may be duller. In particular, the facial shield may turn a brownish red, although the bird above, photographed in mid-December is vibrantly colored. A few adults have an all-yellow bill or a brownish bill. The white on the sides is diagnostic.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 46

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 162

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 63

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 150

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 160

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 188-189

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 102

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 132

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 142

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 54

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 86-88

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 26

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, pg. 126

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, pg. 124

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  pg. 64

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, pg. 138

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 203

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 125

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Common Gallinule



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Common Gallinule, Ellis Creek Water Treatment Facility, Petaluma, December 15, 2011

Common Gallinule

Gallinula galeata

EBird reported  occurrence in Sonoma County

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013