All birders love the Everglades. There are so few places on Earth where one can see thousands and thousands and thousands of wading birds on a single visit, their white and blue and pink bodies contrasting with the golden swishing of marsh grasses or the deep green of cypress swamps. Whenever I enter the boundaries of Everglades National Park or Big Cypress National Preserve I feel as giddy as a child in a candy store.

In November, I visited the Shark Valley Visitor Center and nature trails with my mother and husband, neither of whom have ever seen  this part of the Everglades before. Mom became especially enraptured with the baby alligators we spotted – less than a foot long, they basked in the grass next to their mothers, or crawled atop her back and tail for extra protection.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved every critter we observed, from the alligators to gar to turtles, but I remained on the look-out for one species in particular: the Purple Gallinule. 

Purple Gallinules are what rainbows would look like if reincarnated into a bird. Long yellow legs meet blue-green bodies, all topped off with red and yellow bills and a light blue crown. They are mesmerizingly beautiful, but I’ve never see one outside of the Everglades (though they range throughout the southeast). I so badly wanted to spot their chicken-like forms.

Baby alligators. Cute right?

The nature trails in this part of the park mainly consist of a paved path bordering a canal, with mangroves and other flood-tolerant trees on the other side. Because water pools here, there are even more plants and animals than other areas of the biodiverse park. An Anhinga spread its wings every few yards or so, White Ibis and Wood Storks and Double-crested Cormorants periodically flying overhead.

Luckily for my stress levels, I didn’t have to wait too long. Just a few minutes into our stroll I spied a small bird pop out of the dense understory and land on a leafless branch. The colors were unmistakable: a Purple Gallinule!

The species was a life-bird for my mother. Her eyes widened as she peered at the brightly-hued creature in her binoculars. After getting a good look my husband wanted to keep walking, but she couldn’t get enough. I don’t blame her. To me, they are the most spectacular bird in all of South Florida.

Written by Erika Zambello
Erika Zambello is a National Geographic Young Explorer who grew up in Maine, inspiring a deep interest in nature at an early age. She fell in love with birding after receiving a Sibley field guide for Christmas during her senior year in college, and has birded across the eastern seaboard and internationally ever since. To inspire others to protect birds and the environment, she has blogged for the Conservation Fund, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Triangle Land Conservancy, and Duke University, and is writing a birding guide to Northern New England for Wilderness Adventures Press. She has founded, and is currently living along the Emerald Coast in Florida's Panhandle. You can check out her exploration site or follow her on Instragram.