WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 11 Gallinules and Water Rail

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is gallinules and Water Rail

This week it is the turn of two very common waterbirds and waterside birds, the Coot and Moorhen, plus a related bird which is infamous for skulking in reedbeds and is much more often heard than see, the Water Rail. Coots and Moorhens, which are known as gallinules (which means little chickens) are similar-looking dark-coloured birds which cause confusion with some total beginners, but are really quite easy to identify. Both are happy swimming in water, but both also come out on land to feed. Neither actually have webbed feet, but, rather, lobes on the long toes to aid swimming. These are particularly pronounced on the big grey feet of Coots, which, correspondingly, as a species spends more time on open water than the Moorhen, which is more a bird of the edges of vegetated water bodies and of the land nearby.

Coot

Coot swimming

Coot swimming

Coot taking off from water

Coot taking off from water

Lobed Coot foot

Lobed Coot foot

Easily identified medium-sized blackish (or dark grey) blob of a waterbird. Plumage unicoloured (apart from a thin white trailing edge to the wing, only visible in flight). Bill white as is frontal shield (think: ‘bald as a Coot’). Big grey lobed feet. A loud, argumentative bird, often spoiling for a fight (with other Coots), the usual calls are shouted ‘Kik! Kik!’ sounds.

 

Moorhen

Moorhen swimming

Moorhen swimming

Moorhens in battle

Moorhens in battle

Smaller than Coot and altogether a more ‘colourful’ bird. On first impression, this is a uniformly dark bird. The bill is bright red with a yellow tip, as if painted. The frontal shield is also red. A second, closer look reveals that the underparts and head are deep blue-grey but the back, wings and upper tail are dark brown. Dividing the two regions of dark ‘colour’ is an obvious white line. The undertail sides are white, and used to ‘flash’ in signal, when swimming or when on land, when it can be flicked and cocked. The legs and feet are pale green. Like Coots, Moorhens can be aggressive birds, engaging in on-water battles where they don't shirk from using their long toes as weapons. Fruity, chirruping calls are commonest.

 

Water Rail

A Water Rail ventures out onto ice

A Water Rail ventures out onto ice

Water Rail on a sunny, icy day

Water Rail on a sunny, icy day

This shy bird of reedbeds and similar habitats is a skulker, which usually only ventures out at dusk and dawn when it believes it is not being watched. In some conditions though, they can be quite tame (especially when forced out by a freeze). Water Rails are pretty tiny compared to the gallinules (looking about half the size of a Moorhen). They are pretty little birds, with a long bright red bill, blue-grey underparts with black and white vertical stripes on the flanks and a streaky brown back. Buff undertail. (tail is usually cocked) In some ways, the overall plumage is a little Dunnock like, apart from those striped flanks. Usually betrays its presence with loud squealing calls, sounding like a tortured piglet!

 

All photos from Alamy