Water Rail

Water Rail

Key facts

Scientific name: Rallus aquaticus

Status: Resident breeding species

Breeding birds: 1,100 territories

Conservation status: Green

Family: Rails, crakes & coots

Length: 25 – 28 cm

Wingspan: 38 – 45 cm

Weight: 75 – 190 g


Adult water rails have chestnut upperparts with black patches and white markings on the flight feathers. There are chestnut patches on the head and mantle, and grey underparts with barring and buff undertails with black spots.

Water rails’ heads are grey with a chestnut line on the crown. They have red bills and eyes and pale brown legs and feet. The female is similar to the male but smaller with a shorter bill.

Juvenile water rails have duller plumage with a white chin.


Water rails nest in reedbeds. They build a bulky cup-shaped nest from dead leaves and plant stems hidden in thick vegetation near water.

Water rails eggs are off-white with blotches and they lay 6-11 eggs at daily intervals. Both parents incubate the eggs for 19-22 days.

Water rail chicks are precocial and they are fed by their parents for 20-30 days although they can feed themselves 5 days after hatching. They are fully independent and can fly 8 weeks later.


Water rails are omnivorous and will eat plant matter such as roots, seeds, berries and fruit as well as insects and larvae, worms, fish, molluscs and spiders as well as small amphibians and even small birds.

Water Rail

Where to see them

Water rails are secretive birds but can be spotted across the UK except for upland areas.

They are found mainly in Eastern England in freshwater wetlands.


Beatrix Saadi-Varchmin/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Water rails have been known to kill small birds such as wrens by impaling them on their beaks.

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