PORPHYRIO, Bliss. Tem. FULICA, Lin. GALLINULA, Lath. SULTANA HEN.
Bill strong, hard, thick, conical, nearly as deep as long, and shorter than the head ; the upper mandible dilated as it penetrates into the skull ; nostrils lateral, pierced on the corneous mass of the bill, nearly round and pervious ; legs long and stout, the toes very long in some species, the anterior quite divided, and edged with a very narrow membrane; wings of moderate dimensions.
This family of birds, like the gallinules, in which they have been often included, reside in or near fresh waters, haunt the extensive rice fields of the south, and prefer grain to aquatic herbs, their formidable bill being well adapted to remove the husks, and break the straws, while their legs, and very long retractile toes, are equally suited to lay hold of the stalks of the plant, and to carry the ears to their mouth. They walk with grace on the liquid ele ment, and run with equal facility on the ground, or on the leaves of water plants.
P. hyacinthinus, Tern. Gallinula porphyrio, Lath.
Fulica porphyrio, Lin. Hyacinthine Sultana Hen, Purple Gallinule, or Purple Water Hen. The upper mandible almost identified with the skull ; the middle toe clawless, and longer than the tarsus; all the plumage blue, the frontal plate terminating behind the eyes. This definition
is sufficiently character istic of the beautiful species in question, which is about eighteen inches long, sixteen high, and which occurs on the marshy banks of rivers and lakes, and in the flooded fields of Calabria, Sicily, the Ionian Islands, Dalmatia, the southern provinces of Hun gary, and, though rarely, in Sardinia. It feeds on grains, plants, and roots, and is partial to fruit and fish. The nest is placed in the thick herbage of flooded or swampy fields, and is composed of bits of sticks and fragments of plants. The female lays three or four white, and almost red eggs. The Greeks and Romans tamed and fostered this inter esting bird, introduced it into their palaces and temples, and allowed it a considerable range of flight. According to Sonnini, it abounds in Lower Egypt, appearing in the rice fields in May, and the following months, and breeding in the desert. Several other species have been enume rated, but not very accurately defined.