The Moorhen - happy in your local pond


The Moorhen - happy in your local pond

The common moorhen, a distinctive aquatic bird, is an interesting resident of most local parks, often to be found enjoying the water's edge.

The word 'moor' in its old sense means 'marsh', as the species is not usually found in moorland. An older name, common waterhen, is actually more descriptive of the bird's habitat.

The moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), is a member of the rail family, and is to be found across many parts of the Old World. It lives around well-vegetated marshes, ponds, canals, other wetlands and urban parks.

It has dark plumage apart from the white undertail, distinctive yellow legs and a red frontal beak/shield, which the youngster's lack. The bird gives a wide range of gargling calls, and will emit loud hisses when threatened. It can range from 30 to 38 cm (12 to 15 in) in length and span 50 to 62 cm (20 to 24 in) across the wings.

This species will consume a wide variety of vegetable material and small aquatic creatures. They forage beside or in the water, sometimes walking on lilypads or upending in the water to feed. They are often secretive, but can become tame in some areas. Despite loss of habitat in parts of its range, the common moorhen remains plentiful and widespread.

The birds are territorial during breeding season, and will fight with other members of their species, as well as other water birds such as ducks, to drive them out of their territory. The nest is a basket built on the ground in dense vegetation. Laying takes place between mid-March and mid-May, and about 8 eggs are usually laid per female early in the season; though there may be smaller later broods. Incubation lasts about three weeks, and the young fledge after 40–50 days, become independent a few weeks thereafter. When threatened, the young may cling to the parents' body, after which the adult birds fly away to safety, carrying their offspring with them.

Further reading

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