[order] Gruiformes | [family] Rallidae | [latin] Gallinula chloropus | [UK] Moorhen | [FR] Gallinule poule-d'eau | [DE] Teichhuhn | [ES] Gallereta Común | [IT] Sciabica | [NL] Waterhoen

Waterhoen determination

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Medium-sized gallinule, with prominent bill and frontal shield and habit of constantly flirting tail, exhibiting white under tail-coverts. Looks essentially black at any distance, with unique combination of white line along top of flanks and white lateral under tail-coverts. At close range, yellow-tipped, red bill and red shield most striking features.

Indispensably requires ready access to at least a minimum of open fresh water with adequate plant cover. Does not, however, remain within dense vegetation to same extent as many smaller rails, although this often forms part of habitat complex and is freely used for screening movements. Markedly arboreal, resting, roosting, or even nesting in waterside trees. When surprised on water will dive and evade pursuit by lurking almost submerged among aquatic plants. Prefers waters sheltered by woodland or tall emergent plants, avoiding those wide open, especially where exposed to wind and wave action. Overlaps with Coot along margins of lakes and rivers with cover and open areas readily accessible from water, but less at home beyond 100-200 m from edge, in either direction. More a lowland species than Coot¾normally less abundant above c. 500 m, although infrequently up to 1000 m in central Europe and exceptionally higher. Mainly concentrated in habitat with smaller open water surfaces than acceptable to Coot, down to pools or ponds a few metres across, and including rivers, streams, canals, ditches, and other narrow waters, both flowing and standing, but avoiding oligotrophic and saline situations. Success in colonizing high proportion of suitable, often scattered habitat indicates effective prospecting on wing, largely at night.

Gallinula chloropus is a widespread breeder across much of Europe, which accounts for less than a quarter of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is large (>900,000 pairs), and was stable between 1970-1990. Although there were declines in a few countries during 1990-2000, populations were stable across most of Europe, and the sizeable population in France increased. The species hence remained stable overall.
This cosmopolitan species inhabits wetlands of a major part of Europe, reaching 65°N. The birds of western and southern Europe are sedentary. Those of the north and the east move to the south-west in winter. The population of the European Union (12 Members States) is totalling about 860000 breeding pairs, but it fluctuates widely according to the severity of winter condition

Omnivorous. Wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial vegetation, and animal foods, including molluscs, earthworms, insects, tadpoles and eggs up to the size of Anas platyrhynchos - Mallard eggs. Feeds while swimming (head-dips, less frequently sifts surface, rarely dives, also up-ends), while walking on floating vegetation, and on land (pick items from ground and plants). Also snatch from other birds. Mainly diurnal; may also be active on moonlit nights.

This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 10,000,000 km². It has a large global population, including an estimated 1,700,000-3,300,000 individuals in Europe (BirdLife International in prep.). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]

March to July (southern Europe) or August (e.g. Britain). Nest is made out of twigs and coarse stems, grass and finer material linig, variable saucer-shaped to more substantial deep cup. Maybe built in emergent vegetation, on floating vegetation, sometimes in bushes or trees, may be upto eight meters above ground level, usually close to water. Generally monogamous, sometimes female plus two males (polyandrous), sometimes polygamous (male plus two or more females, cooperative nesting). Pair-bond may be maintained for several years, very territorial. Both sexes build nest and both incubate eggs. Average clutch size in Africa 3-9, in Europe 5-9 and in North America 7-9. Incubation 17-22 days. Hatching may be synchronous (first clutch) or asynchronous (later clutches in which sitting begins before laying of clutch completed). Chicks precocious and nidifugal. Remain in nest first 1-2 days. Brooded frequently initially, and to about 14 days in cold or wet weather. Cared for and fed by both parents, also by siblings from earlier broods. Mainly self-feeding by about 25 days, but still fed by parents to 45 days. Fledging usually 40-50 days, independant by 52-99 days. Breed at one year old.

Resident or dispersive in south and extreme west, partially migratory to migratory elsewhere in west Palearctic; extent of normal movement increases progressively south to north and west to east. Almost entirely summer visitor to FSU, where winters only Transcaucasia and locally in Tadzhikistan and Turkmenistan. Also absent in winter from Finland, and withdraws then from north Scandinavian range. Small numbers overwinter south-west Norway, south Sweden, Denmark, and northern parts Germany and Poland (but not further east). Winter range of emigrant Fenno-Scandian and other north European birds extends south to Iberia, Italy, Balkans, and North Africa; regularly also to northern parts of sub-Saharan Africa. No evidence any British-bred birds emigrate, and recoveries over 20 km unusual; but British Isles receive winter visitors from large segment of north-west Europe. Dispersal by juveniles can begin July, but true migration begins after moult during which flightless for short period. Main southward movements September-November. Winter flocks break up in February; spring passage occurs March-April, or into early May in FSU.