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
Breeding pair of Moorhens feeding their young chicks in the nest
Close up portrait of a Moorhen
Marsh Hen, Eurasian moorhen, Common moorhen
Family:Rails, crakes and coots
30cm to 38cm
50cm to 55cm
192g to 493g
The Moorhen is a distinctive waterbird, easily identified by its bright markings. Read this section for more Moorhen identification tips.
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
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.
Moorhen chick swimming closely behind one of their parents
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
The Moorhen’s call is a characteristic sound of quiet, well-vegetated waters.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Moorhens have an average lifespan of about three years, although can live as long as 18 years.
Moorhens are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
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
Moorhens begin breeding in the UK each spring, raising two or even three broods of chicks.
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.
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.
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.
The nest of a Moorhen with eggs inside and a recently hatched chick
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.
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.
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
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.
Moorhens are a native species in the United Kingdom.
Moorhen running across the water about to take off for flight
Moorhens can fly, although they are not the most graceful birds out there and prefer to fly longer distances at night.
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.
A baby Moorhen is called a chick.
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.
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.
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.
Western swamphens are also sometimes known as purple western swamphens or purple gallinules (not to be confused with the American purple gallinule, native to North America). A relative of the moorhen, the species was first confirmed in the UK in 2016, and added to the British Birds list the following year. Sightings remain extremely rare and unusual.
Found at freshwater wetlands, water rails are elusive birds, inhabiting reeds and rushes at the fringes of lakes and ponds. Slightly smaller than the related moorhen and coot, Water Rails are resident in the UK all year round, and numbers increase with the arrival of migrating birds each autumn.
Often confused for the similar wetland inhabitant the water rail, spotted crakes are rare visitors to the UK, and are notoriously hard to spot as they prefer to remain hidden within densely vegetated marshes and sedge beds.
A member of the family of coots, crakes and rails, the corncrake is unique in that it lives on dry land and prefers hayfields and dense cover as opposed to waterside habitats.
The Eurasian coot is sometimes mistaken for a duck but is in fact a wading bird with splayed toes as opposed to webbed feet. When foraging for food under the water ducks will eat their food whilst still submerged whereas coots will surface first and then eat. There are four sub-species of the Eurasian coot and eleven separate coot species.
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