Key facts

Scientific name: Gallinula chloropus
Status: Resident breeding species

Breeding birds: 270,000 pairs

Wintering birds: 330,000

Conservation status: Green
Length: Length: 30 – 35 cm
Wingspan: Wingspan: 50 – 55 cm
Weight: Weight: 250 – 400 g
Typical lifespan: 3 years

What do moorhens look like?

Moorhens have blue-black plumage overall. The back and upperwings have a dark brown wash and there is a white stripe on the flanks and white lateral undertail coverts.

On the head the bill is red with a yellow tip which extends upwards to cover the forehead with a red frontal plate. The eyes are dark red, the upper legs are bright orange, and the lower legs and feet are bright greenish-yellow.

Male and female moorhens are similar, although the male is slightly larger than the female.

Juveniles are browner with a paler belly and throat. The streaks on the flanks are dull white, and the bill and legs are dark.

How do moorhens breed?

Moorhens breed between the middle of March and the middle of May, sometimes in small colonies, and produce 3 or 4 broods a season. They are monogamous and form pair bonds. They situate their nests in shallow water anchored with vegetation, or on the ground in a low shrub, or on floating vegetation. Both male and female build the nest which is a wide, shallow cup made from dead plant matter, twigs, coarse stems, and lined with softer grass and leaves.

Moorhens lay up to 6-10 smooth, glossy, greyish-white eggs with reddish-brown or olive markings, which are incubated by both parents for 18-21 days. Chicks are precocial and covered in black down. The bill is red with a black tip. They are fed by both parents but leave the nest at about 2-3 days when they can feed themselves. They fledge about 42-49 days after hatching and reach sexual maturity at 1 year.

Young moorhens from the early broods will help their parents raise subsequent broods.

What do moorhens eat?

Moorhens are omnivorous. They eat berries, seeds, grasses, roots, and aquatic plants which they forage by diving. They will also take snails, worms, crustaceans, grasshoppers, insects, algae, tadpoles which it picks from the surface of the water or by dabbling.

Occasionally they will eat other birds’ eggs.


Where can I see moorhens ?

Moorhens can be found by ponds, lake or stream. They live in towns and cities as well as the countryside

They inhabit all of the UK but are scarce in northern Scotland and the uplands of Wales.

What do moorhens sound like?

Fernand Deroussen/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Moorhens have long toes that make it possible to walk on soft mud and floating vegetation, so it can sometimes appear they are walking on water.

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