November 2, 2020
AZ Animals Staff
- Main Prey
- Insects, Rodents, Berries
- Distinctive Feature
- Small rounded head and pointed beak
- 50cm - 80cm (20in - 31in)
- Marshes, wetlands and ponds
- Foxes, Dogs, Raccoons
- Favorite Food
- Average Clutch Size
- Feeds on aquatic insects and water-spiders!
Moorhen Physical Characteristics
- Skin Type
- Top Speed
- 22 mph
- 1 - 3 years
- 70g - 400g (2.5oz - 14oz)
- 25cm - 38cm (10in - 15in)
Moorhens can walk on top of water plants in ponds and lakes.
The common moorhen, also called the common gallinule, is found around the world, just about every place except for the polar regions and tropical jungles. These birds are black with distinctive yellow legs and a red beak with a shield that extends from their beaks up between their eyes and onto their foreheads. Unlike most water birds, moorhens don’t have webbed feet to help them swim. They will hiss if they feel threatened, but otherwise have a distinctive, gargly-sounding call they use to communicate with one another. Moorhens are members of the rail family, which includes many different species of marsh birds.
5 Moorhen Facts
• Moorhens often nest in places that people frequent, such as parks.
• Juvenile moorhens don’t have the bright red shields on their faces.
• Moorhens can fly, but they aren’t very good at it and will only go short distances at any one time.
• Moorhens will eat other birds’ eggs if they can get to them.
• Young moorhens from previous hatchings often help to care for their parents’ new babies.
Moorhen Scientific Name
The scientific name of the common moorhen is Gallinula chloropus. This name comes from the Latin word Gallinula, meaning a small chicken or hen, and the Greek word chloropus, which means green or yellow (khloros) foot (pous).
Multiple moorhen subspecies exist. Because they can be hard to identify based on the often-subtle physical differences, they are generally described by where they can be found.
- Eurasian Moorhen, G. C. Chloropus, found in Northwest Europe to North Africa and Central Siberia, also in the humid areas of Southern Asia, Japan, and Central Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Canary Islands, the Azores, Madeira, and the Cape Verde Islands.
- North American Moorhen, G. C. Cachinnans, found in Southeast Canada south into the USA, but not in the Great Plains Region, also in West Panama, the Galápagos, and Bermuda.
- Southern American Moorhen, G. C. Galeata, found in the Guyanas, Trinidad, and parts of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.
- Indo-Pacific Moorhen G. C. Orientalis, found in the Andaman Islands, the Seychelles, Southern Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Palau.
- Barbados Moorhen, G. C. Barbadensis, found only in Barbados.
- African Moorhen, G. C. Meridionalis, found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Madagascan Moorhen, G. C. Pyrrhorrhoa, found on the islands of Madagascar, Réunion, and Mauritius.
- Andean Moorhen, G. C. Garmani, found in the Andes from Peru to Northwest Argentina.
- Hawaiian Moorhen, G. C. Sandvicensis, found only in Hawaii.
- Antillean Moorhen, G. C. Cerceris, found in the Antilles (not Trinidad or Barbados) and South Florida.
- Subandean Moorhen, G. C. Pauxilla, found in East Panama down to Northwest Peru.
- Mariana Moorhen, G. C. Guami, found in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Moorhen Appearance and Behavior
The moorhen is mainly charcoal gray to black, but its wing feathers tend to have a brownish appearance to them. Along the rear edges of each wing is a strip of white, and it may have small white patches towards its rear as well. The adult birds have a bright red beak that extends upward between its eyes to create a shield. The point of the beak is yellow. Its legs are mostly bright yellow, and it has long, pointed toes with no webbing.
This bird grows to be about 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 cm) long and weighs from 2.5 ounces to 14 ounces (70 to 400 g), about the same weight as a can of soup. Moorhens have a wingspan of 20 to 31 inches (50 to 80 cm), a bit more than the height of two bowling pins stacked one on top of the other. They’re about the same size as a crow. They’ve been known to fly as fast as 22 mph (35 km/h), but they can’t keep up this speed for very long.
Moorhens live in groups, called flocks, most of the time. While these flocks can be large, moorhens often live in small groups of just a few birds. During the breeding season, they live around others of their kind but will separate somewhat from the others to claim a nesting territory.
Although they can be easy to spot when they are swimming, moorhens tend to be rather shy and will avoid people whenever they can. They are not aggressive except during breeding season, and then they will squabble with one another over nests as well as fiercely protecting their babies. They avoid contact with people whenever possible.
Moorhens can be found in most parts of the world, with the exception of jungles and the polar regions. They must have water, so they are only found in areas with enough water for the moorhens to survive. Usually, they need water that is deep enough for them to swim in, which also provides them with a place to nest and a way to escape their enemies.
In colder regions, moorhens will migrate to more temperate areas before breeding season. They can typically be found either swimming boldly on areas of open water or hiding in the weeds at the edge of ponds and creeks. They build their nests along the edges of the water, in dense vegetation that offers them good shelter.
Moorhens are omnivorous and eat a range of plant and animal matter. They eat many different small aquatic creatures, such as snails, small frogs, and fish, as well as land animals including rodents and lizards. They also eat insects and worms and have been known to eat the eggs of other birds. In addition, moorhens eat many of the plants that grow in or near the water, including fruit, berries, and seeds.
Moorhen Predators and Threats
The moorhen faces many environmental challenges brought about by humans, including pollution and loss of habitat. Despite this, the common moorhen has proven to be highly adaptable and continues to thrive in many different environments, even parks and other locations frequented by humans. This bird is listed as being of least concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means that they exist in adequate numbers to sustain their population and face no significant environmental threats.
Not all species of moorhens are thriving, however. The status of the Hawaiian moorhen is uncertain due to its being preyed upon by the mongoose. Another species of concern is the Mariana moorhen. It is listed as endangered by the IUCN as well as other conservation organizations, due to loss of habitat. The Indo-Pacific moorhen is also considered endangered, most likely because the local people hunt this bird for food.
In most places, the moorhen is a popular prey item for a variety of predators. Some of the animals that prey on moorhens are foxes, coyotes, raccoons, dingos, and dogs.
Moorhen Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan
In spring, anywhere from mid-March to mid-May, depending on the climate, moorhens begin to breed. At this time a male moorhen will swim towards the female with his beak dipped into the water. If she accepts him, they will go on to nibble each other’s feathers before working together to build a large nest in a hidden location in the weeds or brush. They will both defend the nest fiercely from any threats, including other birds who might want to steal their spot.
The female usually lays seven or eight eggs, and the male and female take turns incubating the eggs until they hatch, which takes about three weeks. When the babies hatch, both parents share the task of caring for them, taking turns feeding and protecting them. It takes the babies about 40 to 50 days to fledge out fully and be able to fly.
If the babies are threatened in any way, they may cling to the body of one of their parents for safety. The adult will then fly away from the area where the threat exists, carrying the babies to safety.
The young birds will often stay near their parents for some time, even helping to care for the next group of babies once they hatch. Once the birds are sexually mature, usually by the time they’re a year old, they will pair up and start families of their own.
Moorhens don’t have a very long lifespan. They typically live between one and three years, but they can live longer. The oldest moorhen on record was part of a banding study in Louisiana in 1940. He was known to be almost 10 years old at the time he was recaptured and his band was checked.
The overall population of moorhens is stable and is believed to be in the millions. Overall moorhens are thriving and their numbers are steady. They are listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN. However, this isn’t true for all of the subspecies of moorhens.
Some of the subspecies, such as the Hawaiian moorhen, the Mariana moorhen, and the Indo-Pacific moorhen, number far fewer. Each of these smaller groups of birds contains no more than a few hundred individuals, despite efforts to protect them. All three of these types are listed as endangered, and these species may not survive because their numbers are so small.
Moorhen FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are moorhens all female?
The name “moorhen” refers to both male and female birds, just like the name “ladybug” describes both males and females of that species. The term “hen” in this case refers to the bird in general and not specifically a female bird.
What do moorhens eat?
Moorhens are omnivorous and eat a lot of different kinds of foods. They eat vegetable matter, such as fruits, berries, and seeds. They also eat all kinds of insects, water spiders, and worms. Other items on the menu for a moorhen include small fish, frogs, snails, rodents, and lizards. Sometimes moorhens will eat the eggs of other birds.
Are moorhens aggressive?
Moorhens are not normally aggressive, but this changes during the breeding season and when they are raising their young. At that time, they will aggressively defend their nest and babies from predators and from other birds. They are not known to ever be aggressive toward humans, though, preferring instead to run away or hide.
How do you cook a moorhen?
Cooking a moorhen is a lot like cooking a chicken. How you prepare it depends on your taste preferences. You can either pluck or skin the bird, then cook it your favorite way. Some of the better-known ways to cook a moorhen include roasted, slow-cooked with vegetables and gravy, basted in wine sauce, or skinned and grilled.
What are some other names people call moorhens?
Moorhens have lots of different names. Usually, people in different parts of the world will have different names for them. Some of the names moorhens go by include skitty coot, common gallinule, marsh hen, waterhen, and swamp chicken.
- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
- Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
- David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
- Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
- Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals
- Christopher Perrins, Oxford University Press (2009) The Encyclopedia Of Birds