Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Extinct as Porphyrio albus
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument] as Notornis alba.
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument] as Notornis alba.
Amendment to the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (11/04/2007) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007f) [Legislative Instrument] as Porphyrio albus.
List of Migratory Species - Amendment to the list of migratory species under section 209 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (26/11/2013) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2013af) [Legislative Instrument] as Notornis alba.
State Listing Status
NSW: Listed as Extinct (Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (New South Wales): August 2014 list) as Porphyrio albus
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Extinct (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
NGO: Listed as Extinct (The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010)
Scientific name Porphyrio albus [66502]
Family Rallidae:Gruiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Shaw, 1790)
Infraspecies author  
Other names Notornis alba [25892]
Distribution map Species Distribution Map not available for this taxon.
Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Porphyrio albus

Common name: White Gallinule

The White Gallinule is a conventionally accepted species (Christidis & Boles 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1993). The taxonomic relationship of the White Gallinule with other species of gallinules has been debated since its discovery. It was first considered to be most closely related to the coots (Fulica spp.), but was later considered to have a closer relationship with the Takahe of New Zealand (Porphyrio hochstetteri). It is now thought to be most closely related to the Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), with which it is sometimes considered conspecific (the same species, different subspecies) (Christidis & Boles 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The White Gallinule was a large flightless rail with white plumage and a massive red bill. It was 55 cm in length (Hutton 1991). Most birds had entirely white plumage, although some were seen with blue-and-white plumage, and others with blue plumage (Hindwood 1940).

The White Gallinule formerly occurred only on Lord Howe Island in the south-west Pacific Ocean (McAllan et al. 2004; Marchant & Higgins 1993). Its date of extinction is unknown, but it was last recorded in May 1788 when it was considered common (Hindwood 1940; McAllan et al. 2004), and possibly before the first settlement in 1834 (Hindwood 1940; McAllan et al. 2004).

The White Gallinule was formerly described as occurring in 'great numbers' and 'great plenty', though it has been suggested that these descriptions exaggerated its abundance (Hindwood 1940).

There have been a number of ornithological surveys on Lord Howe Island in the 20th century (Disney & Smithers 1972; Recher 1974; Recher & Clark 1974), but there has been no sign of the species.

Little is known about the ecology of the White Gallinule. It is thought to have inhabited the lowland woodlands of Lord Howe Island (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The White Gallinule is claimed to have interbred with the closely related Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), vagrants of which occasionally visited Lord Howe Island. However, some authors believe this claim to be doubtful (Hindwood 1940).

The Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) is capable of breeding when one year old, but this usually only occurs in small populations. Within larger groups, birds seldom breed when less than three years old (Craig 1980). The Purple Swamphen builds a platform of grass or reeds with a shallow depression into which two to six pale brown eggs with spots and blotches are laid (Brown & Brown 1977; North 1901-1914; Stidolph 1939).

Nothing is known about what the White Gallinule ate, but it probably foraged on the ground (Hutton 1991), which may have made it more vulnerable to predation. The closely related Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) eats mainly aquatic vegetation, though also occasionally eats insects, small vertebrates and eggs (Carroll 1966; Marchant & Higgins 1993; Norman & Mumford 1985). The related Takahe (Porphyrio mantelli) eats mainly shoots of grass and ferns (Marchant & Higgins 1993; Mills & Mark 1977; Mills et al. 1980).

There are no recorded movements of the White Gallinule. However, given that it was flightless, it was probably sedentary. The closely related Purple Swamphen occurs in pairs and small groups, and the Takahe occurs solitarily, in pairs and small groups (Marchant & Higgins 1993).

Being a large gallinule with white plumage and a large red bill, the White Gallinule would have been distinctive. When first recorded by the early explorers, it appears to have been easy to detect. One early visitor to Lord Howe Island caught six individuals (Hindwood 1940).

Though the White Gallinule has been extinct since the first half of the 19th century, if a survey were to be conducted, it should consist of area searches within a radius of 500 m at various sites, or possibly transect surveys. Either method, with the objectives of sightings or detection by call, footprints, feathers or nests, would be useful in establishing whether the species was present at a site (Magrath et al. 2004).

The extinction of the White Gallinule is thought to have resulted from hunting by sailors, whalers and other visitors to Lord Howe Island. The bird was regularly killed for food, and was said to be good eating (Hindwood 1940; Hutton 1991).

Threat abatement documents for this species are at the start of the profile.

No threats data available.

Brown, R.J. & M.N. Brown (1977). Observations of Swamphens breeding near Manjimup, W.A. Corella. 1:82-83.

Carroll, A.L.K. (1966). Food habits of Pukeko (Porphyrio melanotus Temminck). Notornis. 13:133-144.

Christidis, L. & W.E. Boles (1994). The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union Monograph 2. Melbourne, Victoria: Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union.

Craig, J.L. (1980). Pair and group breeding behaviour of a communal gallinule, the Pukeko Porphyrio p. melanotus. Animal Behaviour. 28:593-603.

Disney, H.J. de S. & C.N. Smithers (1972). The distribution of terrestrial and freshwater birds on Lord Howe Island, in comparison with Norfolk Island. Australian Zoologist. 17:1-11.

Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia and Birds Australia. Available from:

Hindwood, K.A. (1940). The birds of Lord Howe Island. Emu. 40:1-86.

Hutton, I. (1991). Birds of Lord Howe Island: Past and Present. Coffs Harbour, NSW: author published.

Magrath, M.J.L., M.A. Weston, P. Olsen & M. Antos (2004). Draft Survey Standards for Birds: Species Accounts. Melbourne, Victoria: Report for the Department of the Environment and Heritage by Birds Australia.

Marchant, S. & P.J. Higgins, eds. (1993). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume 2 - Raptors to Lapwings. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

McAllan, I.A.W., B.R. Curtis, I. Hutton & R.M. Cooper (2004). The birds of the Lord Howe Island Group: a review of records. Australian Field Ornithology. 21:1-82.

Mills, J.A. & A.F. Mark (1977). Food preferences of the Takahe in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand, and the effect of competition from introduced Red Deer. Journal of Animal Ecology. 46:939-958.

Mills, J.A., W.G. Lee, A.F. Mark & R.B. Lavers (1980). Winter use by Takahe (Notornis mantelli) of the Summer-green Fern (Hypolepis millefolium) in relation to its annual cycle of carbohydtrates and minerals. New Zealand Journal of Ecology. 3:131-137.

Norman, F.I. & L. Mumford (1985). Studies on the Purple Swamphen, Porphyrio porphyrio, in Victoria. Australian Wildlife Research. 12:263-278.

North, A.J. (1901-1914). Nests and Eggs of Birds Found Breeding in Australia and Tasmania. Sydney, NSW: Australian Museum.

Recher, H.F., ed. (1974). Environmental Survey of Lord Howe Island: A Report to the Lord Howe Island Board. Sydney, NSW: Australian Museum.

Recher, H.F. & S.S. Clark (1974). A biological survey of Lord Howe Island with recommendations for the conservation of the island's wildlife. Biological Conservation. 6:263-273.

Stidolph, R.H.D. (1939). Birds of the Wairarapa Lake district. Emu. 38:344-355.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Porphyrio albus in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Sun, 21 Sep 2014 18:45:02 +1000.