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Page last updated at 17:29 GMT, Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Rare purple bird found dead in Devon garden
By Jemima Laing
BBC Devon

American purple gallinule. Photo: Julia Harris DBWPS Assistant County Recorder
The bird is similar to a moorhen

A bird which has only been recorded three times in the UK has been found dead in a garden in Devon.

The American purple gallinule is a species of waterbird, similar to a colourful version of our resident moorhen.

The RSPB's Tony Whitehead said he was contacted by a man from Tavistock who had discovered the unusual bird on Monday 24 January 2011.

"I was quite puzzled by his description," said Tony.

"We get many phone calls about unusual birds that turn out to be something quite common - but this one was different," he said.

"The caller said he had some old bird books and the nearest thing he could see was a gallinule.

American purple gallinule
Found from the south east United States through central and south America
They are birds of swamp and marsh and related to our moorhens and coots
It has huge yellow feet, purple-blue plumage with a green back and red and yellow bill

"As it's notoriously difficult to identify birds over the phone I put the chap in contact with Julia Harris, assistant county bird recorder for the Devon Birdwatching & Preservation Society (DBWPS) locally and left it at that.

"Naturally I was pleasantly surprised to discover this morning that bird was indeed an American purple gallinule."

The birds are found in the Americas, from the south east United States through central and south America.

"It is possible this bird was caught up in autumn storms and blown across here some months ago, where it has survived out of sight until yesterday," said Tony.

Its death may have been due to exhaustion brought on by the cold weather.

Steve Waite from the DBWPS said it was an "incredible find".

"When I opened the email with photos from Julia Harris, I was in total shock," said Steve.

"I'm sure many other bird enthusiasts were too when they heard the news."

Steve said they intend to send the specimen to the Natural History Museum at Tring where the two previous American purple gallinules found in the UK are kept.

"This episode just proves though that you just never know what might turn up next," said Steve.

The bird was discovered in the run up to the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place on 29 and 30 January 2011.

"Already this week I've been asked if anything unusual might appear for this weekend's Big Garden Birdwatch," said Tony.

"But I never expected to be asking about purple gallinules.

"It's a real shame that the bird was found dead, but it just goes to show that you don't necessarily need to travel to find amazing wildlife."

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