Gallinula chloropus (Linnaeus, 1758) MH MOORH 4240
Family: Gruiformes > Rallidae

Moorhen, Sarah Kelman

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.

Exploring the trends for Moorhen

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Moorhen population is changing.

trends explorer


Moorhen identification is usually straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Moorhen.

related video

Identifying Coot and Moorhen

Coot. Photograph by Sarah Kelman

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.

Young call

Begging call

Flight call

Alarm call


Develop your bird ID skills with our training courses

Our interactive online courses are a great way to develop your bird identification skills, whether you're new to the hobby or a competent birder looking to hone your abilities.

Browse training courses

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>).

Exploring the trends for Moorhen

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Moorhen population is changing.

trends explorer


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

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Breeding Season Habitats


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


Moorhens are widely reported and present year-round.

Weekly occurence of Moorhen from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Moorhen ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Moorhen, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.


Exploring the trends for Moorhen

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Moorhen population is changing.

trends explorer


View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report

Exploring the trends for Moorhen

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Moorhen population is changing.

trends explorer


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Cearc-uisge
Welsh: Iâr Ddwr
Catalan: polla d'aigua comuna
Czech: slípka zelenonohá
Danish: Rørhøne (Grønbenet)
Dutch: Waterhoen
Estonian: tait
Finnish: liejukana
French: Gallinule poule-d’eau
German: Teichhuhn
Hungarian: vízityúk
Icelandic: Sefhæna
Irish: Cearc Uisce
Italian: Gallinella d'acqua
Latvian: udensvistina
Lithuanian: nendrine vištele
Norwegian: Sivhøne
Polish: kokoszka (zwyczajna)
Portuguese: galinha-d'água-comum
Slovak: sliepocka vodná
Slovenian: zelenonoga tukalica
Spanish: Gallineta común
Swedish: rörhöna
Folkname: Waterhen


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.

Links to more information from

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