Spotted Crake

Porzana porzana

22-24cm

Appearance

A stout wetland bird with greenish legs and feet. The upperparts are mostly greeny-brown with light specks and dark smudges, the underparts blue-grey with white dots, and the face and throat are blue-grey too. The breast is olive-brown and spotted with white, flanks are barred in black and white, tail has orange feathers beneath; there are thin white lines towards the ends of folded wings, and wings have a white leading edge in flight. The base of the yellow bill has a red spot. Female is like the male, but a little smaller. Juvenile birds don't have the blue-grey colour, the throat is pale, the breast is browner and there's a light stripe across the eye.

Habitat

Dispersed thinly in Britain; most consistent breeding sites are in East Anglia and northern Scotland. Migrants are distributed widely in autumn, predominately in eastern England. Preferred habitats are large freshwater marshes and wetlands with shallows and thick vegetation.

Character

This is a timid species that spends much of its time slinking in thick vegetation. Most often seen alone, this bird is most active at dawn and dusk. If alarmed, it flees by jumping up then fluttering rapidly into cover, legs dangling. When walking, the legs are slightly bent, body near to the ground, the tail twitching; its long toes help it to navigate over fragile floating vegetation.

Food

Has a varied diet of insects such as caddis flies, beetles and moth larvae; also eats small water snails, fish, worms, seeds, shoots and roots.

Breeding

The nest is grounded but in close proximity to water. Female lays 10-12 eggs which both parents incubate for 18-19 days. When all the eggs have hatched, young begin to wander out of the nest; they can fly after about 25 days. Not uncommon to have two broods in a year.

Population

Majority of these birds migrate from western Europe in the summer, arriving in the region from March to May, then departing in September and October. Around 50-60 migrant birds are seen each year.

Observation Tips

Wetland reserves during September provide perhaps the only chance of seeing this species, as it is the autumn migration. Some of the juvenile migrants can be tolerant of humans.

Voice

Adults make a quick 'whit, whit' at dusk and during the night in springtime.
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