This species is known to undertake considerable nomadic movements in response to changing water levels and it is an irregular and opportunistic breeder, varying its time of breeding with rainfall.
Throughout both breeding and non-breeding seasons the species is dispersed in single pairs or small flocks of 3-7 birds; large flocks in the moulting season are recorded rarely, when some gatherings can be as large as 2,000 strong. The species is diurnal, with most of its activity occurring early morning and late afternoon although occasionally the species may also forage at night. This species frequents shallow saline lakes, seasonal and permanent brackish or saline pools and vleis, rivers, seasonally flooded wetlands, farm dams, state reservoirs, coastal shorelines, estuaries, lagoons, tidal mudflats and wastewater treatment pools.
In South Africa this species move to deep, open waters on which to moult, and prefers to breed on bare and grassy pans. It has an omnivorous diet, feeding on the stems, leaves and seeds of pondweeds, as well as aquatic insects, crustaceans and tadpoles. Females prefer to locate nests on islands where possible, although nest sites can be some distance from the water. The nest itself is a hollow scrape in the ground, well concealed amongst small trees, thorny bushes or aquatic vegetation.