|Copyright: HJ Achilles (achilles)
|Date Taken: 2009-05-10|
|Exposure: f/5.2, 1/200 seconds|
|More Photo Info: [view]|
|Photo Version: Original Version|
|Date Submitted: 2009-05-14 14:11|
|[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note|
|This funny looking moorhen chicks made a fantastic show in running behind their mother begging loudly for small insects. |
The Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) is a bird in the rail family with an almost worldwide distribution outside Australasia as well as deserts, many tropical rainforests, and the polar regions. It is often simply called "moorhen", or "waterhen" as the bird actually prefers wetlands to moorland; either term can refer to a number of related species however. Another ambiguous vernacular name, popular in the USA, is common gallinule, which can also refer to the subspecies G. c. cachinnans in particular. "Water rail" usually refers to Rallus aquaticus, while "moor coot" is misleading, as G. chloropus is not a coot). Meanwhile, a "watercock" is not a male "waterhen", but the rail species Gallicrex cinerea, not especially closely related to the Common Moorhen, but with males that look like an "ornate" version of G. chloropus in breeding plumage. This diversity of names is probably due to the commonness of the bird in many different places; apart from coots, Common Moorhens are likely the most familiar rail species to most people outside the Australian region.
Description and ecology
Common Moorhen feet have no webbingIt 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.
This 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. This species will consume a wide variety of vegetable material and small aquatic creatures. They forage while swimming, sometimes upending to feed, or walking through the marsh. It is often secretive, but can become tame in some areas. Despite loss of habitat in parts of its range, the Common Moorhen remains plentiful and widespread.
The nest is a roofed basket built on the ground in dense vegetation. Laying starts in spring, between mid-March and mid-May in N hemisphere temperate regions. 8-12 eggs are usually laid per female early in the season; a second brood in summer usually has only 5-8 or even less eggs; nests may be shared by 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.
Despite being a bountiful species, small populations are of course more prone to extinction. The Hawaiian Moorhen or ʻalae ʻula (G. c. sandvicensis) is suspected to be threatened by the Small Indian Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) which was introduced to the Hawaiian Islands to hunt rats but found the local birdlife easier prey. The Mariana Common Moorhen or pulattat (G. c. guami) is very rare nowadays due to destruction of habitat. Only some 300 adult birds remained in 2001, and it is listed as Endangered both federally (since 1984) and locally.
The population of Palau, belonging to the widespread subspecies G. c. orientalis and locally known as debar (a generic term also used for ducks and meaning roughly "waterfowl"), is also very rare, and apparently the birds are hunted by locals. Most of the population on the archipelago occurs on Angaur and Peleliu, while the species is probably already gone from Koror. In the Lake Ngardok wetlands of Babeldaob, a few dozen still occur, but the total number of Common Moorhens on Palau is about in the same region as the Guam population; less than 100 adult birds (usually less than 50) have been encountered in any survey.
The Common Moorhen is one of the birds (the other is the Eurasian Coot, Fulica atra) from which the cyclocoelid flatworm parasite Cyclocoelum mutabile was first described.
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.
In addition to the extant subspecies listed below, there are two Pleistocene populations known from fossils; they were distinct (generally larger) birds and probably the direct ancestors of some of today's Common Moorhens: The stout and long-winged paleosubspecies G. c. brodkorbi is known from the Ichetucknee River deposits in Florida; it was originally described as a distinct species. The presence of fossils typical of the shorter-winged and more delicate G. c. cerceris in the same deposits suggests that brodkorbi was not ancestral to the "Florida Gallinule" of our time but rather to the more northernly "Common Gallinule". An undescribed form is recorded from the Early Pleistocene of Dursunlu in Turkey.
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