Moorhens are medium-sized water birds that are often seen in our parks
Article and video about moorhens provided by Mark Barkan of Avibirds, a group dedicated to educating people about birds and helping them care for their feathered friends.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT MOORHENS
Lifespan: 3 years
Average length: 33cm (13 in)
Average weight: 325g (11 oz)
Average wingspan: 53cm (21 in)
Incubation: 21 days
Moorhens are black with white stripes along their flanks and white patches on their rumps. Seen up close they appear dark reddish-brown on their backs. They have long yellow legs for wading and large un-webbed feet. Moorhens have a characteristic red shield between their eyes, continuing down to the yellow-tipped bill. This feature is absent in the young.
Moorhens are sometimes called marsh hens.
Common moorhens are widespread, occurring in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Populations in colder climates migrate to more temperate regions during winter.
They produce a wide range of gargling noises. These birds also make loud hissing sounds when threatened.
Moorhens are freshwater birds that favour the marshy waters of wetlands. They occur in ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers. You may often see them in parks, and even on farmlands. Moorhens live in the countryside as well as in cities.
[Editors note: Moorhens and coots can look quite similar to the amateur bird watcher. We differentiate by the red markings on their bills, remembering HEN=RED]
Moorhens live in small flocks. They break off into nesting territories during the breeding season but still maintain somewhat close proximity to the group. They are highly protective over their nesting areas and often quarrel with each other over territories. But otherwise, they are generally placid birds.
Moorhens forage in water and on adjacent land, never venturing too far from the nest. In water, they forage through plant matter on the surface and also dive underwater to fish and search for other food items.
They enjoy a varied diet of leaves, seeds, berries, worms, snails, fish, and even the eggs of other birds. The young are able to forage from three weeks old.
Moorhens build basket-like nests out of grasses and aquatic plants. Occasionally, they are found nesting in low trees and shrubs, sometimes in the nests of other birds.
Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the young. The female lays six to ten eggs per clutch and may lay up to three clutches during one breeding season. Young moorhens typically remain with their parents and help raise new hatchlings.
Moorhens may be preyed on by many small mammals such as cats, dogs, and foxes. In some parts, they are heavily preyed on by minks.
The common moorhen is a highly adaptable species with a thriving population of approximately 6,750,000 birds. Despite this, they may face environmental threats such as habitat destruction and pollution. They are listed as least concern by the IUCN.
There are four extant species of moorhens, and five subspecies of the common moorhen.
The genus name Gallinula is Latin for “little hen.”
Marsh hens feature in The Gold Bug – a story by Edgar Allan Poe.
Moorhens are generally weak fliers but are still capable of long-distance flight. Some migratory populations cover up to 2,000 kilometres to get to their winter grounds.