Moorhen

Gallinula chloropus

32-35cm

Appearance

This bird's yellow-tipped red bill, and the red shield that extends between the eyes, are a familiar sight in the region. The sexes are similar; there's a white line along the flanks, the back is olive-brown, the head and underparts are dark blue-grey, and the tail has some white feathers. The legs are long and yellowish green. Juveniles are pale on the throat and chin with a less distinct line along the body, and are otherwise greyish brown.

Habitat

British populations live mostly in lowland parts of the region, particularly in central and eastern England. Favours freshwater lakes, rivers, ditches and overgrown streams, and can be found in village ponds and other more urban areas.

Character

Before take off, the Moorhen skitters across the water on its feet, then dangles its legs as it takes to air, and leaves them hanging beyond the tail. Its tail flicks consistently as it walks or swims, showing the white feathers beneath. The long toes aid in negotiating dense vegetation. Can dive to escape danger. Most often seen alone or with family in summer; larger groups often form in the winter.

Food

Diet includes both plants and animals, and it feeds on land and water. Eats plant food such as duckweed, pondweed, seeds from sedges, docks, buttercup and berries. Also consumes worms, snails, spiders, insects, small fish and eggs of other birds.

Breeding

Breeding season runs from March until the beginning of autumn. Nests are usually in aquatic plants but are occasionally in bushes. Female lays 5-7 eggs and both parents incubate for about 21 days. Multiple females (two, sometimes three or four) may lay in the same nest. Parents and young from previous broods feed the hatchlings who can fly after around 45 days. Young are independent after about 55 days. Female may have two or three broods.

Population

Most birds of the region are resident; approximately 270 000 pairs are in the UK and up to 100 000 in Ireland. These numbers are raised by migratory birds arriving from mainland Europe in autumn and winter.

Observation Tips

Can be quite timid in their natural surroundings, though some urban Moorhens have developed a tolerance for human observers. Birds are particularly secretive in the breeding season when they have eggs or young. Otherwise, this widespread bird is a relatively simple find in low-lying wetland habitats.

Voice

Has a variety of calls, perhaps the most common being a blaring 'kurr-uk', which is far-carrying. Also has a collection of croaks and grunts.
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