AppearanceThe Moorhen is a distinctive species, with dark plumage apart from the white undertail, yellow legs and a red facial shield. The young are browner and lack the red shield. It has a wide range of gargling calls and will emit loud hisses when threatened.
NamingThe name ''mor-hen'' has been recorded in English since the 13th century, and the word ''moor'' here is an old sense meaning ''marsh'' - the species is not usually found in moorland. An older alternative name, Common Waterhen, is a more descriptive because of the bird's habitat.
A "Watercock" is not a male "Waterhen", but the rail species ''Gallicrex cinerea'', not especially closely related to the Common Moorhen. "Water Rail" usually refers to ''Rallus aquaticus'', again not closely related.
The scientific name ''Gallinula chloropus'' comes from the Latin ''Gallinula'' and the Greek ''chloropus'' .About one dozen subspecies are today considered valid; several more have been described which are now considered junior synonyms. Most are not very readily recognizable as differences are rather subtle and often clinal.
Usually, the location of a sighting is the most reliable indication as to subspecies identification, but the migratory tendencies of this species make identifications based on location not completely reliable. Old World birds have a frontal shield with rounded top and fairly parallel sides; the tailward margin of the red unfeathered area is a smooth waving line. American birds have a frontal shield that has a fairly straight top and is less wide towards the bill, giving a marked indentation to the back margin of the red area.
DistributionThis is a common breeding bird in marsh environments and well-vegetated lakes. Populations in areas where the waters freeze, such as southern Canada, the northern USA and eastern Europe, will migrate to more temperate climes.
StatusDespite loss of habitat in parts of its range, the Common Moorhen remains plentiful and widespread. They fight over territories and also hop around Lily pads.
ReproductionThe nest is a basket built on the ground in dense vegetation. Laying starts in spring, between mid-March and mid-May in N hemisphere temperate regions. About 8 eggs are usually laid per female early in the season; a brood later in the year usually has only 5-8 or even less eggs.
Nests may be re-used by different females. Incubation lasts about three weeks. Both parents incubate and feed the young. These fledge after 40–50 days, become independent usually a few weeks thereafter, and may raise their first brood the next spring. When threatened, the young may cling to the parents' body, after which the adult birds fly away to safety, carrying their offspring with them.
FoodThis species will consume a wide variety of vegetable material and small aquatic creatures. They forage beside or in the water, sometimes upending in the water to feed.
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