In July, the AOU (but so far not the BOU) decided to split all New World forms from Old World chloropus as Common Gallinule (in favour of the name Laughing Moorhen suggested by The Sound Approach). However, it is galeata, the most widespread form across South America, that has been designated the nominate race rather than cachinnans. I'd like to know what features distinguish these two races? As far as I can tell they are vocally inseparable (compare the calls of galeata and cachinnans here and chloropus here), but I've observed that galeata does appear to be much greyer on the upperparts than both Old World chloropus and North American cachinnans, with brown tones restricted to the lower mantle, rump, greater coverts and flight feathers (compare below), and perhaps they are also a little darker overall. Are there other differences?
At REGUA, galeata also exhibit some differences in behaviour compared to the Old World Common Moorhen. Here the birds seem to be more social, forming large flocks throughout the year, often containing 40 or so individuals that feed and rest together. They also appear to be more aquatic in their feeding habits, preferring to forage in open and often quite deep water, picking plant material from the surface, and feed much less frequently on land than Common Moorhen do in the UK, where bird seem to prefer to graze on grass. Has anyone noticed a similar feeding behaviour in cachinnans, or in any other race? For some excellent footage by Ron Jackson showing the behaviour, calls and features of galeata at REGUA, click here.
|A typical feeding group of Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata, REGUA, July|
2011. Based on observations at REGUA, Brazilian birds are seemingly much
less terrestrial in their feeding habits than their Old World counterparts?
|Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus London Wetland Centre, UK, December|
2011. Birds in the UK seem to prefer grazing on land.
So is the situation as straightforward as separating New World from Old World moorhens? Looking at photos, meridionalis from sub-Saharan Africa and St. Helena in the mid South Atlantic (here), orientalis of south-east Asia (here), and pyrrhorrhoa from Madagascar and surrounding islands (here), all look very similar to galeata to me, with perhaps a very slightly more rounded top to the shield. Have these been allied to Common Moorhen or Common Gallinule, and are they also different species?