The Grey-headed Swamphen is a chicken-sized bird, with its huge feet, bright plumage and red bill and frontal shield is unmistakable in its native range.
There are 13 or more subspecies of the Purple Swamphen which differ mainly in plumage color. European birds are overall purple-blue, African and south Asian birds have a green back, and Australasian and Indonesian birds have black backs and heads.
The Grey-headed Swamphens are generally seasonal breeders, but the season varies across their large range, correlating with peak rainfall in many places, or summer in more temperate climes. The Grey-headed Swamphen breeds in warm reed beds. The male has an elaborate courtship display, holding water weeds in his bill and bowing to the female with loud chuckles. In the western parts of the range the pattern of social behaviour tends to be monogamy, but cooperative breeding groups are more common in the eastern parts of the range. These groups may consist of multiple females and males sharing a nest or a male female pair with helpers drawn from previous clutches.