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) Wikipedia

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.


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.

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.

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.

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).


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.

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.

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.


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)
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.


But, if you look at some of the others:

H8580 (Brown-Driver-Briggs)
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


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

• swan, 2
Lev_11:18; Deu_14:16


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)


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)


Birds of the Bible – Water-hen or Water hen

White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) by Nikhil Devasar

White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) by Nikhil Devasar

Leviticus 11:18
(BBE) And the water-hen and the pelican and the vulture;
(ERV) water hens, pelicans, carrion vultures,
(ISV) water-hen, pelican, carrion,
(MSG)  water hen, pelican, Egyptian vulture,
(NRSV) the water hen, the desert owl, the carrion vulture,

(ABP+) and the purple-legged stork, and pelican, and swan
CAB(i) 18 and the red-bill, and the pelican, and swan,
(Brenton) and the red-bill, and the pelican, and swan,
(Bishops) The Backe, the Pellicane, the Pye,

(Geneva) Also the redshanke and the pelicane, and the swanne:
(Vulgate) si ambulans per viam in arbore vel in terra nidum avis inveneris et matrem pullis vel ovis desuper incubantem non tenebis eam cum filiis
(KJV) And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle,
Deuteronomy 14:16
(BBE) The little owl and the great owl and the water-hen;

(Bishops) The litle Owle, the great Owle, nor the Redshanke.
(Geneva) Neither the litle owle, nor the great owle, nor the redshanke,
(KJV)  The little owl, and the great owl,  and the swan,
(Vulgate) herodium et cycnum et ibin

Adam Clarke’s Commentary: “The swan – תנשמת tinshemeth. The Septuagint translate the word by πορφυριωνα, the porphyrion, purple or scarlet bird. Could we depend on this translation, we might suppose the flamingo or some such bird to be intended. Some suppose the goose to be meant, but this is by no means likely, as it cannot be classed either among ravenous or unclean fowls. Bochart thinks the owl is meant.”

Companion Bible Notes: “swan, not our swan: it is variously rendered “ibis”, “heron”, and “pelican”.

Gill: “Leviticus 11:18
And the swan,…. This is a bird well known to us, but it is a question whether it is intended by the word here used; for though it is so rendered in the Vulgate Latin, it is differently rendered by many others: the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem call it “otia”, which seems to be the same with the “otus” of Aristotle (n), who says it is like an owl, having a tuft of feathers about its ears (from whence it has its name); and some call it “nycticorax”, or the owl; and here, by Bochart (o), and others, the owl called “noctua” is thought to be meant; and with which agrees the account some Jewish writers give of it, as Aben Ezra and Baal Hatturim, who say it is a bird, which every one that sees is astonished at it, as other birds are at the owl, are frightened at the sight of it, and stupefied. But as the same word is used Lev_11:30 among the creeping things, for a mole, what Jarchi observes is worthy of consideration, that this is “calve (chauve) souris” (the French word for a bat), and is like unto a mouse, and flies in the night; and that which is spoken of among the creeping things is like unto it, which hath no eyes, and they call it “talpa”, a mole. The Septuagint version renders it by “porphyrion”, the redshank; and so Ainsworth; and is thought to be called by the Hebrew name in the text, from the blowing of its breath in drinking; for it drinks biting, as Aristotle says (p):”

Jamieson Fausset Brown: the swan — found in great numbers in all the countries of the Levant. It frequents marshy places – the vicinity of rivers and lakes. It was held sacred by the Egyptians, and kept tame within the precincts of heathen temples. It was probably on this account chiefly that its use as food was prohibited. Michaelis considers it the goose.
Leviticus 11:13-19

On the birds there are no visible markers like there are on the fish and the animals. But they seem to have in common that they are all unclean feeders. For the most part, they feed on dead carcasses of animals, fish, and other fowl.

A list of unclean birds of Palestine is given. This is another point that reveals that the Mosaic system was intended for the nation Israel and also for the particular land of Palestine. Some of these birds sound strange to us. They fall into the family of the eagles and the hawks, the vultures and the ravens, the owls and cormorants, and the swans and pelicans. They don’t even sound appetizing. They are the “dirty birdies” because of their feeding habits. Now remember, some people eat some of these birds today. I can’t say I would like any of them, but whether we eat them or don’t eat them makes no difference—meat will not commend us to God. The point is that it was teaching Israel to make a distinction. They had to make a decision about what was clean and unclean.

The lesson for us today is that we must make decisions about our conduct and our profession. We have to make the decision about whether to accept Christ or not, whether to study the Word of God or not, whether to walk in a way pleasing to God or not. That is the application for us today.

This section throws some light on the experience of Elijah. He was fed by the ravens—dirty birds. Elijah did not eat the ravens, but they fed him. This was a humbling experience for this man of God who obeyed God in every detail.

Leviticus 11:1-47

These laws seem to have been intended, 1. As a test of the people’s obedience, as Adam was forbidden to eat of the tree of knowledge; and to teach them self-denial, and the government of their appetites. 2. To keep the Israelites distinct from other nations. Many also of these forbidden animals were objects of superstition and idolatry to the heathen. 3. The people were taught to make distinctions between the holy and unholy in their companions and intimate connexions. 4. The law forbad, not only the eating of the unclean beasts, but the touching of them. Those who would be kept from any sin, must be careful to avoid all temptations to it, or coming near it. The exceptions are very minute, and all were designed to call forth constant care and exactness in their obedience; and to teach us to obey. Whilst we enjoy our Christian liberty, and are free from such burdensome observances, we must be careful not to abuse our liberty. For the Lord hath redeemed and called his people, that they may be holy, even as he is holy. We must come out, and be separate from the world; we must leave the company of the ungodly, and all needless connexions with those who are dead in sin; we must be zealous of good works devoted followers of God, and companions of his people.


Well, those are some of the remarks by the different commentaries. It seems there is no real set answer as to whether the Waterhen or Water-hen was the intended bird. The list of Unclean and Clean birds was for the Israelites and not us today. It is not even for them today. Why write about them, because it is interesting. To me, it comes down to a decision on their part and ours today whether we want to obey the Word of God.

….for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. (Deuteronomy 13:3-4 NKJV)

Most of the birds seem to have a diet that would cause eating that bird to make people sick or to die. Not all of them are in that category. It could be that they were not to eat a specific bird because they were few in number at that time and it could have caused them to go extinct. (That happens today.) It comes to obedience. That said, let’s see what a Water Hen really is.

Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) by Lee

Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) by Lee

Water-hen or Waterhens are in the Rallidae – Rails, Crakes & Coots Family. According to Wikipedia’s article on the Waterhen:

Waterhen may refer to any of the following:

Black Crake (Amaurornis flavirostra) ©WikiC

Black Crake (Amaurornis flavirostra) ©WikiC

The adult Black Crake is 19–23 cm long with a short tail and long toes. As its name implies, the adult has mainly black plumage, with a brown olive tone on the wings and upperparts which is rarely detectable in the field. The eye is red, the bill is yellow, and the legs and feet are red, duller when not breeding.

The sexes are similar, but the male is slightly larger. Most males, but only 10% of females, have a hooked upper mandible. The immature bird has brown upperparts and a dark grey head and underparts. Its bill is greenish yellow, and its feet and legs are dull red. The downy chicks are black, as with all rails.

The Black Crake is extremely aggressive when breeding and will attack birds of many species, but especially other rails. It will attack and kill rails of species as large as itself.

The nest is a deep neat bowl made from wetland plants and built by both sexes in marsh vegetation or on the ground in a dry location. The nest is also sometimes constructed up to 3 m high in a bush.

If it was a Redshank(e), then we have a completely different bird in a different family, the Scolopacidae – Sandpipers, Snipes. If so, that would mean I would have to make yet another “Bird of the Bible” category. Humm!

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) ©WikiC

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) ©WikiC

Of the three last bird pictures here, they do all have something red. The Moorhen has a red beak and the other two have red legs. You realize that these names are today’s name. They do change over the years. What ever bird this verse applies to, it has been enjoyable for me to investigate it. It has caused me to be in God’s Word, search the Commentaries, and check out the many birds the Lord created. And I trust you have benefited from it also and you might even dig around and find more about these verses.

And I get to add another Bird of the Bible page.

Birds of the Bible – Waterhen

All Birds of the Bible articles.