Pukeko is the native New Zealand (Maori) name for the purple swamp hen, or purple coot (it's genus name, Porphyrio, means "purple" in Greek). Common marsh birds, pukekos can be found delicately stalking through wetlands on their long, bright red gams. Keeping them neatly buoyed above soggy marsh environments are somewhat ridiculously long toes - not an unusual trait among birds that make their living at water's edge - they're a bit like snowshoes for summer sinking conditions - but the pukeko's particular proportions make such elongated digits a bit of a contradiction to an otherwise blunt, chicken-like body. They are quite beautiful birds, renowned for a lack of street sense - visitors are likely to catch their first glimpse of a pukeko in mostly 2-dimensional form by the roadside - but the regularity of collisions isn't all due to stupidity. Like any animal intent on thriving, swamp hens are drawn to the richest feeding areas they can find, and for the contemporary pukeko, this often means drainage ditches beside road shoulders (where insects, spiders, frogs and the like can be abundant)... apparently being flattened under a tire while nosing about for extra tasty noms is a worthwhile risk.
Purple swamp hens belong to the rail family (Rallidae) and can be found plentifully in numerous subspecies throughout Australasia, Indonesia, Asia, Africa, as well as Europe - France's variant is known as the Sultana Bird. Representing North America is the Purple Gallinule, which shares pukeko form factor but is distinctly smaller, and with slightly different colored "makeup" (see Audubon painting below). Having been blessed by mother nature with such a vibrant cherry red beak, purple swamp hens were favored by numerous ancient cultures - the color red has long been a symbol of nobility, and ages before they became popular pets of the Maori they were distinguished groundskeepers of Roman villas. One would think a bird as substantial in size and with such relatively poor flight (their landing gear is a pip "challenging" to tuck up...) would have made excellent eating, but the purple swamp hen is one of those rare examples of lucky phenotype that just so happened to coincide with the rosy side of human aesthetic.
Despite the car strikes that plague it today, that attractive ultramarine plumage, unmistakable thick, red beak, and ungainly legs continue to provide pukekos with a soft spot in the hearts of modern Kiwis - their graphic silhouette has become the mascot of many a New Zealand business; cartoonish sculptural likenesses populate gardens, tchotchke shelves, and plush toy collections; and their amusing behavior makes them a popular subject for children's books. I guess being known as the avian village idiot is a small price to pay for otherwise good looks, good fortune, and commercial success... well played, pukeko, well played.
Above, clockwise: 1. pukeko photo by Dr. Kerry Rodgers; 2. an ornamental metal pukeko; 3. a "gumboot" featuring a pukeko scene; 4. a dizzying pukeko pattern; and 5. an 1840 painting of an American Purple Gallinule - the US equivalent of the pukeko, by the great John James Audubon (notice the light blue forehead shield, yellow tipped beak, and yellow legs).