Gallinula chloropus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Gruiformes > Rallidae
A very familiar and widespread bird, the Moorhen can even be found in urban parks where there are streams, lakes or small ponds.
Distributed throughout England Wales, Ireland and south-east Scotland, Moorhens avoid high ground. British and Irish Moorhens are sedentary, occupying their lowland habitats year-round. In winter the population is swelled by birds migrating here from the Continent.
In addition to swimming well on water, Moorhens can often be seen foraging on grassy margins, when their white undertail is flicked as a prominent signal to others. Moorhen courtship and territoriality has been well studied owing to their abundance in and around University towns.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Moorhen
Moorhen identification is usually straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Moorhen.
Familiar waterbirds to many but have you ever struggled to tell the difference between Moorhen and Coot? You are not alone! Often found together they can cause ID headaches, especially when young birds are encountered.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Moorhen, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
Trends for this species show wide fluctuations that are related to its high potential for reproduction and to its susceptibility to cold winter weather. The BBS map of change in relative density between 1994-96 and 2007-09 indicates that numbers have increased in England and Wales but decreased in Northern Ireland and possibly Scotland. Wintering numbers in Britain, which include many continental breeders, fell between 2008 and 2013 (WeBS: Frost et al. 2020). Numbers across Europe have been broadly stable since 1980 (PECBMS: PECBMS 2020a>).
|UK breeding population||No population change in UK (1967–2020)|
|UK winter population||-13% decrease (1995/96 to 2020/21)|
In winter and the breeding season, Moorhens are widely distributed throughout most of Britain and Ireland on a wide variety of lowland freshwater wetlands and agricultural areas with abundant drainage ditches. They are absent from many upland areas of Wales, northern England and northern and western Scotland.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||2209|
|% occupied in breeding season||73|
|No. occupied in winter||2156|
|% occupied in winter||71|
European Distribution Map
Breeding Season Habitats
|Most frequent in||Ponds|
|Also common in||Along Rivers|
There have been marked range losses in Ireland, but population declines in Britain have not yet resulted in significant range loss.
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||-8.3%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+2.5%|
Moorhens are widely reported and present year-round.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
Lifecycle and body size information about Moorhen, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report
|Maximum Age from Ringing||11 years 3 months 20 days (set in 1963)|
|Typical Lifespan||3 years with breeding typically at 1 year|
|Wing Length||Adults||182.4±8.7 | Range 170–195mm, N=1192|
|Juveniles||179.2±11.1 | Range 166-192mm, N=570|
|Males||187.8±5.8 | Range 179–198mm, N=523|
|Females||174.2±5.2 | Range 167–182mm, N=252|
|Body Weight||Adults||356±68.08 | Range 243–460g, N=591|
|Juveniles||318±70.2983 | Range 200–439g, N=309|
|Males||374±64.83 | Range 243–465g, N=295|
|Females||319±56.05 | Range 235–407g, N=114|
Feather measurements and photos on featherbase
|Field Codes||2-letter: MH | 5-letter code: MOORH | Euring: 4240|
For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name
Interpretation and scientific publications about Moorhen from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
The main drivers of the recent decline are unclear.
Further information on causes of change
A decline in the number and quality of farmland ponds, and the spread of American mink Neovison vison, which is an important predator especially along watercourses, have been suggested as possible causes of regional and local decline. The failure rate of nests has increased, and there has been corresponding decline in the number of fledglings per breeding attempt.
Modelling suggests that climate change may have had a positive impact on the long-term trend for this species, resulting in less negative trends than would have occurred in the absence of climate change (Pearce-Higgins & Crick 2019).
Information about conservation actions
Whilst the Moorhen population has fluctuated, the recent downturn has been of sufficient magnitude to prompt lower level alerts. The reasons for the decline and hence potential conservation actions are unclear. Theoretically, the increases in the availability and quality of wetland habitats which have benefited many other breeding waterbird species, should also have benefited Moorhen. However, this species is more widely distributed than many other wetland species with birds frequenting dispersed, smaller patches of habitat such as farm ponds which may have decreased in number and quality in some areas (Heath & Whitehead 1992; Jeffries 2012; Davies et al. 2016). Policies which encourage the creation of suitable ponds or similar habitat should therefore be considered in order to potentially benefit this species, although further research is needed to inform other conservation actions.
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