Birds of the Bible – Name Study – Swamphen or Waterhen

Purple Gallinule by Lee at Lake Hollingsworth by Lee

Purple Gallinule by Lee at Lake Hollingsworth by Lee

And the swan, and the bittern, and the porphyrion. (Leviticus 11:18 DRB)

And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle, (Leviticus 11:18 KJV)

the white owl, the jackdaw, and the carrion vulture; (Leviticus 11:18)

et cygnum, et onocrotalum, et porphyrionem, (Leviticus 11:18 clVulgate)

A quote from the article mentioned in Birds of the Bible – Names of Birds Study Introduction from Kosher Animals – Birds about the “porphyrion”:

“An additional complexity arises from the fact that the porphyrion has not yet been identified, and classical Greek literature merely identifies a number of species that are not the porphyrion, including the peacock, grouse, and robin, and implies that the porphyrion is the cousin of the kingfisher; from these meagre clarifications, the porphyrion can only be identified as anything from the Lilac-breasted Roller, Indian Roller, or Northern Carmine Bee-eater, to the flamingo.”

This caused studying to find out more about this. Working so much with the names of birds of the world that I list, a search of that database came up with these Latin named birds with similar spelling and the Waterhen listed in some Bible translations, so it is listed also.:

Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)
African Swamphen (Porphyrio madagascariensis)
White Swamphen (Porphyrio albus) † Extinct
Mohoau (Porphyrio mantelli) † Extinct
Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri)
Allen’s Gallinule (Porphyrio alleni)
Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus)
Azure Gallinule (Porphyrio flavirostris)

Purple-throated Cotinga (Porphyrolaema porphyrolaema)  ©Cincinnati Zoo
Blue Finch (Porphyrospiza caerulescens) IBC

White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)

Interesting. The Cotinga and the Finch, I believe could be eliminated as birds not on the unclean list. The birds left are all part of the Rails, Crakes and Coots-Rallidae Family. Also looking back over previous posts, the Water-hen was written about in Birds of the Bible – Water-hen or Water hen. Some insight was discovered in that article.

Which bird is intended by the Bible? I have no definite answer. But, for the sake of learning more about birds, let’s look at the ones left on the list above. Notice that “purple” does show up in most of these birds.

Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) by Bob-Nan

Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) by Bob-Nan

The Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), also known as the Pūkeko, African Purple Swamphen, Purple Moorhen, Purple Gallinule or Purple Coot, is a large bird in the family Rallidae (rails). From its name in French, talève sultane, it is also known as the Sultana Bird. This chicken-sized bird, with its huge feet, bright plumage and red bill and frontal shield is easily-recognisable in its native range. It should not be confused with the American Purple Gallinule, Porphyrio martinica.

There are 13 or more subspecies of the Purple Swamphen (depending on the authority) which differ mainly in plumage colour.
The species makes loud, quick, bleating and hooting calls, which are hardly bird-like in tone. It is particularly noisy during the breeding season. Despite being clumsy in flight it can fly long distances, and it is a good swimmer, especially for a bird without webbed feet.

The Purple Swamphen is occasionally recorded as an escape from captivity in Britain and elsewhere. An introduced population exists in Florida, though state wildlife biologists are trying to eradicate the birds.

The Purple Swamphen was introduced to North America in the late 1990s due to avicultural escapes in the Pembroke Pines, Florida area. The birds multiplied and can now be found in many areas of southern Florida. Ornithological authorities consider it likely that the swamphen will become an established part of Florida’s avifauna.

The Florida birds are mostly or entirely of the gray-headed race poliocephalus, native to the area around the Caspian Sea.

The most common call from the Florida birds is a loud, high-pitched “creek,” often doubled.

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White Swamphen (Lord Howe) (Porphyrio albus) † Extinct ©WikiC

White Swamphen (Lord Howe) (Porphyrio albus) † Extinct ©WikiC

The Lord Howe Swamphen or White Gallinule, Porphyrio albus, was a large bird in the family Rallidae endemic to Lord Howe Island, Australia. It was similar to the Purple Swamphen, but with shorter and more robust legs and toes. Its plumage was white, sometimes with a few blue feathers, and it was probably flightless, like its other close relative the Takahe. Similar, entirely blue birds were also described, but it is not clear if they belong to this species or are simply Purple Swamphens (which can also be found on the island). The feathers on the two extant skins are white.

This bird was first described by John White in his Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (1790), which also contained an illustration. It was not uncommon when the bird was first described, but was soon hunted to extinction by whalers and sailors.
There are two skins of the bird in existence, one in the collection of the World Museum in Liverpool and the other in the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien in Vienna. There are also several paintings, and some subfossil bones.
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Mohoau (Porphyrio mantelli) † Extinct (North Island Takahē) ©WikiC

Mohoau (Porphyrio mantelli) † Extinct (North Island Takahē) ©WikiC

The North Island Takahē or Mōho, or Mohoau (Porphyrio mantelli) is an extinct rail that was found in the North Island of New Zealand. This flightless species is known from subfossils from a number of archeological sites and from one possible 1894 record (Phillipps, 1959). It appeared to have been even larger than the South Island Takahē and, if it did survive until the 1890s, would have been the largest rail in historic times. The decline of the species has generally been attributed to the increasing incursion of forest into the alpine grasslands through the Holocene, although hunting by the Māori also played a major role.

Traditionally the North Island Takahē was considered conspecific with the threatened South Island Takahe P. hochstetteri. Trewick (1996) presented evidence that the two taxa were independently derived from flying ancestors, so proved to be separate species.
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Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) by Nick Talbot

Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) by Nick Talbot

The Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri) or South Island Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri) is a flightless bird indigenous to New Zealand and belonging to the rail family. It was thought to be extinct after the last four known specimens were taken in 1898. However, after a carefully planned search effort the bird was rediscovered by Geoffrey Orbell near Lake Te Anau in the Murchison Mountains, South Island, on 20 November 1948.

The Takahē is the largest living member of the Rallidae family. Its overall length averages 63 cm (24.8 in) and its average weight is about 2.7 kg (6 lbs) in males and 2.3 kg (5 lb) in females, ranging from 1.8-4.2 kg (4-9.2 lbs).  The standing height is around 50 cm (20 in). It is a stocky bird, with reduced wings, strong legs and a massive bill.

The adult Takahē is mainly purple-blue in colour, with a greenish back and inner wings. It has a red frontal shield and red-based pink bill. The legs are pink. This is a noisy species with a loud clowp call. Contact call is easely confused with that of the Weka (Gallirallus australis), but is generally more resonant and deeper.
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Allen's Gallinule (Porphyrio alleni) ©WikiC

Allen’s Gallinule (Porphyrio alleni) ©WikiC

The Allen’s Gallinule (Porphyrio alleni), formerly known as the Lesser Gallinule is a small waterbird of the family Rallidae. Its former binomial name is Porphyrula alleni.
Its breeding habitat is marshes and lakes in sub-Saharan Africa. They build a floating nest in marshes and swamps, laying 2-5 eggs. This species is partially migratory, undertaking seasonal movements.
Remarkably, this apparently weakly flying bird is not only the only species with a purely sub-Saharan African range to have reached Great Britain, but has done so twice. It has also occurred as a vagrant in several other European countries.

They are similar in size to the only slightly larger Water Rail. The Allen’s Gallinule has a short red bill, greenish back and purple upperparts. They have red legs with long toes, and a short tail which is white with a dark central bar underneath. Breeding males have a blue frontal shield, which is green in the female. Immature Allen’s Gallinules are sandy brown with a buff undertail. The downy chicks are black, as with all rails.
These birds probe with their bill in mud or shallow water, also picking up food by sight. They mainly eat insects and aquatic animals. They nod their heads as they swim.

Allen’s Gallinules are very secretive in the breeding season, particularly in the dense swamps they favour, and are mostly heard rather than seen. They are then rather noisy birds, with a sharp nasal pruk call. They can be easier to see on migration or when wintering.

This bird is named after British naval officer Rear-Admiral William Allen (1770-1843).

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Framed Purple Gallinule by Dan

Framed Purple Gallinule by Dan

The (American) Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus) is a “swamp hen” in the rail family Rallidae. This is a medium-sized rail, measuring 26–37 cm (10–15 in) in length, spanning 50–61 cm (20–24 in) across the wings and weighing 141–305 g (5.0–10.8 oz). Males, averaging 257 g (9.1 oz) in mass, are slightly larger than females, at 215 g (7.6 oz) on average. The adult Purple gallinule has big yellow feet, purple-blue plumage with a green back, and red and yellow bill. It has a pale blue forehead shield and white undertail. Darkness or low light can dim the bright purple-blue plumage of the adult to make them look dusky or brownish, although the forehead shield color differentiates them from similar species such as Common Gallinules.

Juveniles are brown overall with a brownish olive back. These gallinules will fly short distances with dangling legs. Their breeding habitat is warm swamps and marshes in southeastern states of the United States and the tropical regions of Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America. This species is resident in southern Florida and the tropics, but most American birds are migratory, wintering south to Argentina. The nest is a floating structure in a marsh. Five to ten eggs are laid. Their coloration is buff with brown spots.

The diet of these rails is omnivorous, being known to include a wide variety of plant and animal matter, including seeds, leaves and fruits of both aquatic and terrestrial plants, as well as insects, frogs, snails, spiders, earthworms and fish. They have also been known to eat the eggs and young of other birds.

This species is a very rare vagrant to western Europe and southwestern Africa. There is a similar species in southern Europe, the Purple Swamphen, Porphyrio porphyrio, but that bird is much larger.

This species is sometimes referred to by the alternative name, Yellow-legged Gallinule.
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Azure Gallinule (Porphyrio flavirostris) ©Arthur Grosset

Azure Gallinule (Porphyrio flavirostris) ©Arthur Grosset

The Azure Gallinule (Porphyrio flavirostris) is a species of bird in the Rallidae family. It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Venezuela.

The bill and frontal shield is a pale greenish-yellow.The wing coverts are greenish-blue while the back and tail are browner. The throat and underparts are white while the legs are yellow.

It is found in freshwater marshes where there is floating vegetation and this includes marshy edges of rivers and lakes. Nest is an open cup of leaves concealed in dense marsh vegetation. Clutch size is 4-5 eggs, incubated by both parents. Diet consists of invertebrates, insects and seeds taken from water and vegetation. Climbs in reed stems to bend them over water to pick up food.
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White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) by Nikhil Devasar

White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) by Nikhil Devasar

The White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) is a waterbird of the rail and crake family Rallidae that is widely distributed across Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. They are dark slaty birds with a clean white face, breast and belly. They are somewhat bolder than most other rails and are often seen stepping slowly with their tail cocked upright in open marshes or even drains near busy roads. They are largely crepuscular in activity and during the breeding season, just after the first rains, make loud and repetitive croaking calls.

Adult White-breasted Waterhens have mainly dark grey upperparts and flanks, and a white face, neck and breast. The lower belly and undertail are cinnamon coloured. The body is flattened laterally to allow easier passage through the reeds or undergrowth. They have long toes, a short tail and a yellow bill and legs. Sexes are similar but females measure slightly smaller. Immature birds are much duller versions of the adults. The downy chicks are black, as with all rails.

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The other reference to the Porphyrion is found in Deuteronomy 14:16 with that list of unclean birds. Again, the translations give a wide variation in which bird is meant. Swan, owl, water-hen,

The little owl and the great owl and the water-hen; (Deuteronomy 14:16 BBE)

the little owl and the great owl, the water hen (Deuteronomy 14:16 NRSVA)

and G2532 heronG2064.1 and G2532 swanG2945.2 and G2532 ibisG2395.1 (Deuteronomy 14:16 ABP+)

The little owl, the great owl, the horned owl, (Deuteronomy 14:16 AMP)

The litle Owle, the great Owle, nor the Redshanke. (Deuteronomy 14:16 Bishops)

Neither the litle owle, nor the great owle, nor the redshanke, (Deuteronomy 14:16 Geneva)

and the heron, and the swan, and the stork, (Deuteronomy 14:16 Brenton)

herodium ac cygnum, et ibin, (Deuteronomy 14:16 clVulgate) (Cygnus is the Latin word for swan, the romanized form of the ancient Greek κύκνος (kyknos) “swan”.)
the little owl, and the eared owl, and the barn owl, (Deuteronomy 14:16 LITV-TSP)

The little owl, and the great owl, and the swan, (Deuteronomy 14:16 KJV)

(H853) The little owl,H3563 and the great owl,H3244 and the swan,H8580 (Deuteronomy 14:16 KJV+)

the little H3563b owl H3563b, the N1great H3244 owl H3244, the white H8580 owl H8580, (Deuteronomy 14:16 NASB+) (This translation of H8580 amazes me. They translate it white owl yet here is what it says in H8580)

H8580 (Strong’s LXX)
תּנשׁמת
tanshemeth
tan-sheh’-meth
From H5395; properly a hard breather, that is, the name of two unclean creatures, a lizard and a bird (both perhaps from changing color through their irascibility), probably the tree toad and the water hen: – mole, swan.

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But, if you look at some of the others:

H8580 (Brown-Driver-Briggs)
תּנשׁמת
tanshemeth
BDB Definition:
1) an unclean animal of some kind
1a) an unclean bird
1a1) perhaps the ibis, water-hen, species of owl, barn owl
1b) an unclean lizard
1b1) perhaps the chameleon
1c) perhaps an extinct lizard or bird, exact meaning unknown
Part of Speech: noun feminine
A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: from H5395
Same Word by TWOT Number: 1433b

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H8580 (This is a combo of many BTSCTVM+)

- Original: תּנשׁמת
- Transliteration: Tanshemeth
- Phonetic: tan-sheh’-meth
- Definition:
1. an unclean animal of some kind
a. an unclean bird
1. perhaps the ibis, water-hen, species of owl, barn owl
b. an unclean lizard
1. perhaps the chameleon
c. perhaps an extinct lizard or bird, exact meaning unknown
- Origin: from H5395
- TWOT entry: 1433b
- Part(s) of speech: Noun Feminine

- Strong’s: From H5395; properly a hard breather that is the name of two unclean creatures a lizard and a bird (both perhaps from changing color through their irascibility) probably the tree toad and the water hen: – mole swan.
Total KJV Occurrences: 3
• mole, 1
Lev_11:30

• swan, 2
Lev_11:18; Deu_14:16

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Well, I don’t know about you, but I still don’t have a definite answer. Though, isn’t it enjoyable to study God’s Word. Like it was posted before, what ever bird it was is not as important as the obedience that was involved. They knew which birds they were not to eat and they were expected to obey. Today, when we read the Bible, we come across clear commands and we are expected to obey. (Bonus – I was birdwatching in Scripture)

And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22 KJV)

Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Romans 6:16 KJV)

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See also:

Birds of the Bible

Birds of the Bible – Water-hen

Birds of the Bible – Swans

Birds of the World - Rallidae – Rails, Crakes & Coots

List of animals in the Bible - Wikipedia

Porphyrion (Greek Mythology) – Wikipedia

(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources, plus the e-Sword program)

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2 thoughts on “Birds of the Bible – Name Study – Swamphen or Waterhen

    • Don’t be turning purple. If you noticed that same verse is translated all owls in some versions. That will be another study down the line. :) Then you may turn purple again.

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