Gallinula chloropus

The Moorhen is a common and colourful waterbird, found everywhere from city ponds to countryside wetlands.



Moorhen in flight - they're not the most gracious in flight

Moorhen in flight - they're not the most gracious in flight

Breeding pair of Moorhens feeding their young chicks in the nest

Breeding pair of Moorhens feeding their young chicks in the nest

Close up portrait of a Moorhen

Close up portrait of a Moorhen

Appearance & Identification

The Moorhen is a distinctive waterbird, easily identified by its bright markings. Read this section for more Moorhen identification tips.

What do Moorhens look like?

Moorhens are dark, chicken-like waterbirds often seen swimming or walking about on seemingly oversized legs and feet.

Moorhens appear black with a dark brown shade on the back and wings. They have a prominent white bar across each wing, and the lower tail feathers are white. Their yellow legs and unwebbed feet are very large. Their bill has a yellow tip and a bright red base, and they have reddish eyes.

Female Moorhens look very much like males, and distinguishing the two on looks alone can be virtually impossible. However, females are generally smaller, and the difference may be visible when pairs are seen together.

Common Moorhen walking through the water

Common Moorhen walking through the water

Moorhen chicks begin to follow their parents very early in life. At first, they are all black, with a red and yellow bill and a blueish shade above their eyes. As they grow older, they begin to resemble their adults but have grey-brown plumage with dark beaks and duller legs.

The Moorhen most closely resembles the Eurasian Coot, although Coots are larger and have plain black plumage and white bills.

<p><strong>Moorhen chick swimming closely behind one of their parents</strong></p>

Moorhen chick swimming closely behind one of their parents

<p><strong>Juvenile Moorhen</strong></p>

Juvenile Moorhen

How big are Moorhens?

The Moorhen is a stocky bird, intermediate in size between a Feral Pigeon and a Woodpigeon.


Adult Moorhens vary between 30 and 38 centimetres in length. They have stout, compact bodies and very large legs.


Adult Moorhens have a wide weight range from under 200 grams to nearly 500 grams. Females are generally lighter, averaging about 271 grams. The heavier males average about 339 grams.


Moorhens are rarely seen in flight. They have a wingspan of 50 to 55 centimetres.

Moorhen swimming on the water

Moorhen swimming on the water

Calls & Sounds

The Moorhen’s call is a characteristic sound of quiet, well-vegetated waters.

What sound does a Moorhen make?

Moorhens produce a variety of calls, but the most frequently heard is a sharp ‘Kruk’ or Ku-rik’ call.


The Moorhen is an opportunistic feeder with a varied diet.

What do Moorhens eat?

Moorhens are omnivorous birds, feeding on various aquatic and terrestrial plants, worms, insects, and small fish. They will also feed on berries, carrion, and occasionally bird eggs.

They find their food under the water, on the surface, on aquatic vegetation, or on land near water.

What do Moorhen chicks eat?

Baby Moorhens leave the nest within a day or two of hatching and are fed by both parents and even older siblings from previous broods. They eat insects and various other morsels.

Moorhen foraging for food on top of the lily pads

Moorhen foraging for food on top of the lily pads

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Moorhen?

Moorhens inhabit a variety of freshwater environments, from ponds to larger rivers and even ditches. They prefer still or slow-flowing water, especially with abundant aquatic vegetation.

What is the range of a Moorhen?

Moorhens are widespread in the United Kingdom and are especially common in lowland areas. They are scarce or absent from high-lying parts of Scotland, Northern England and Wales.

Where do Moorhens live?

Moorhens spend most of their lives on and around the water. They are comfortable swimmers but equally agile when wading and walking on dry land. These birds spend little time flying and only occasionally land high above the ground in bankside trees.

Close up of a Moorhen pictured in its natural habitat

Close up of a Moorhen pictured in its natural habitat

How rare are Moorhens?

Moorhens are common birds in suitable habitats. Their population has remained stable in the long term but may fluctuate in response to cold winters and good breeding seasons.

Where can you see Moorhens in the UK?

Moorhens can be seen in virtually any marsh, pond, or other vegetated freshwater body. They are even at home in city parks, so birdwatchers rarely need to travel far to see these water birds.

Eurasian Moorhen stood on a rock

Eurasian Moorhen stood on a rock

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Moorhens live?

Moorhens have an average lifespan of about three years, although can live as long as 18 years.

What are the predators of Moorhens?

Moorhens could fall prey to foxes, mink, cats, and Marsh Harrier. Their eggs are vulnerable to weasels, rats, Magpies and Crows.

Are Moorhens protected?

Moorhens are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Are Moorhens endangered?

Moorhens are not an endangered species. Despite being on the amber list, they remain common in the United Kingdom. Globally, they are ranked as a ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List.

Moorhen balancing on a branch in a tree

Moorhen balancing on a branch in a tree

Nesting & Breeding

Moorhens begin breeding in the UK each spring, raising two or even three broods of chicks.

Where do Moorhens nest?

Moorhens nest on the water or up to about a meter above it in a large nest built of reeds, twigs and other plant material. The nest may be floating, built on an existing platform of vegetation, or sometimes on land near the water’s edge.

What do Moorhen eggs look like?

Moorhens usually lay five to nine eggs per clutch, each measuring about 43 millimetres long and 31 millimetres wide. Their eggs are a cream-white shade with brown blotches.

Do Moorhens mate for life?

Moorhens are usually monogamous, although they may form trios with two males or two females. Some pairs may remain together for several years, and those birds may indeed mate for life.

<p><strong>The nest of a Moorhen with eggs inside and a recently hatched chick</strong></p>

The nest of a Moorhen with eggs inside and a recently hatched chick

<p><strong>Young baby Moorhen chick out of the water, standing on the grass</strong></p>

Young baby Moorhen chick out of the water, standing on the grass


Moorhens are active waterbirds, often seen flicking their tails as they move about.

Are Moorhens aggressive?

Moorhens are territorial birds and may engage in fighting with competitors. They may fight in the water or on land, each bird facing the other and striking out with its feet.

Adult Moorhens may also act aggressively toward their own chicks when encouraging them to fend for themselves.

Where do Moorhens sleep at night?

Moorhens often sleep on their old nests at night or in low vegetation along the margins of water bodies.

A pair of Moorhens fighting, with a Eurasian coot watching

A pair of Moorhens fighting, with a Eurasian coot watching


Do Moorhens migrate?

Moorhens are resident breeding birds in the United Kingdom, although they may be partial or complete migrants elsewhere in their range. Many Moorhens from Continental Europe visit the UK each winter to weather the relatively mild winter.

Are Moorhens native to the UK?

Moorhens are a native species in the United Kingdom.

Moorhen running across the water about to take off for flight

Moorhen running across the water about to take off for flight


Can Moorhens fly?

Moorhens can fly, although they are not the most graceful birds out there and prefer to fly longer distances at night.

Is a Moorhen a duck or a bird?

Moorhens are not ducks, although they certainly are birds. Moorhens are members of the Rallidae family, a group that contains other water birds like crakes, rails, and gallinules. Ducks are from the Anatidae family, which includes ducks, geese, and swans.

What do you call a baby Moorhen?

A baby Moorhen is called a chick.

Why do Moorhens squeak?

Moorhens generally call to communicate with other members of their species. Common scenarios include territory defence or when they are alarmed. Their commonly heard ‘squeak’ call is used for various displays.

Do Moorhens visit gardens?

Moorhens occasionally visit gardens, and some even feed from bird feeders. However, these colourful waterbirds are not common garden birds and are most likely to frequent properties near ponds and other suitable habitats.

How to attract Moorhen

Moorhens are most at home around the water, and this habitat requirement makes them a difficult species to attract for most people. However, if you live up against a river or pond, sprinkling mealworms, wheat, and corn may attract them to feed.

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Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Gallinula chloropus

Other names:

Marsh Hen, Eurasian moorhen, Common moorhen


Rails, crakes and coots

Conservation status:




30cm to 38cm


50cm to 55cm


192g to 493g

Learn more about the Moorhen

Similar birds to a Moorhen

Other birds in the Rails, crakes and coots family

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