You may have noticed an abundance of waterbirds that are neither ducks or swans at your local pond. The reason for this is that it’s moorhen baby season! We had some early on in the year but maybe the cold British spring meant that most chicks are born later than they used to be. Moorhens are the odd black birds that have shocking tendency to run across water. While there is several different species around the world, the ones we see in UK are Common Moorhens, Gallinula chloropus. They are shy reserved birds. If you’ve ever fed the ducks at your pond, you may notice these black hens with the red heads at the outskirts of the pond, darting in for a bite but never moving too close.
So, what are moorhens?
These waterbirds have adapted to living on water in almost any environment within the UK. You will find them in countryside water ditches and you will find them in park ponds within a busy city. They are most recognised by their red heads, yellow beaks and mainly black feathers. If you are close enough, you will see that there are some browner feathers on the back and a few white stripes. Their most endearing features will be those long powerful black/brown/yellow legs. Ever seen a moorhen run? They are fast.
Chicks are mainly fluffy black, very small wings and dark legs that look too big for the body.
Most of the time, you will see moorhens looking for food. This is more noticeable during nesting season where they have chicks to feed. Their diet consists of vegetation, other birds eggs, worms and insects.
How do moorhens behave?
Moorhens appear to have a rather skittish, nervous behaviour. They are often shy and will run away when you are too close. However, moorhens are not afraid to swim around in the open so they are fairly easy to spot. Moorhens are poor fliers as their wings are short and not very strong. However, they are able to run very fast. I occasionally see moorhen chicks running on water and lily pads at my local ponds.
Moorhens exhibit aggressive behaviour during nesting season. Where the male moorhen will sit on the eggs, the female moorhen will defend the nest site and you may occasionally see females fighting. Moorhens lay many eggs at a time, however, eggs and chicks are often preyed upon by gulls, herons, other water birds, foxes and cats. Perhaps this is why moorhens can have many broods per year. One interesting behaviour that might be unique to moorhens is that juvenile moorhens from previous broods occasionally take up babysitting duties. They will help feed and defend younger chicks that are the offspring of their parents. Unlike ducks, where ducklings are expected to find their own food, moorhen chicks are fed by parents and juveniles from previous broods.
Once juveniles show signs of having adult plumage, the parents will send them off.
Personally, I quite like moorhens. The ones where I live are rather shy and live in really small groups. I rarely see more than two together. Often, they hide between the reeds and if not for their calling to each other, you might not see them. Occasionally, they walk out of the pond and across the roads in our estate to find the other pond. Luckily, cars are few and slow so I’ve yet to see a road kill incident.
Just the other day though, Cookie, my cat, caught an adult moorhen and brought it into our back garden. I was able to get him to let go and the moorhen was able to escape. I tried catching it to check for injuries but it was too fast. In the end, I opened our back garden door and it ran out. I noticed Cookie had blood stains on him and judging by how ferocious he can be to other animals, I thought that the blood must have been the moorhens’. I was unable to check the bird for injuries which bothered me slightly but there is only so much I could have done without stressing the moorhen too much.
Do you have any moorhens where you live? Are they breeding? Let me know what you think of moorhens in the comment box below!
Hi,we have a moorhen that has moved in with our 5 chickens. It has been with us for approx 6 weeks now, is this normal?
hi! I haven’t heard of anything like that before! I guess the moorhen probably likes the easy food? They tend to live in rivers and ponds, being water birds so I wouldn’t say it was common for one to be living amongst chickens. Does it have access to a water source? How are the chickens finding the moorhen? Also, have you noticed any injuries that may have caused this change of behaviour?
Hi, we live in mid Devon and are lucky to have a largish pond. Moorhens have lived ‘with us’ for more than 8 years. Each year eggs are successfully hatched and this year we have 6 black fluffy balls on stilts! Whilst I was gardening on Monday last, they appeared from the the planted grasses following Mum, with Dad at the end of the line. Off they went into the pond. They are living at the side of the water in the reeds. Mum created her nest in the reeds on the opposite side of the pond and I was lucky enough to see 6 eggs in it. As you say the creatures are very skittish, so any movement near the pond they vanish quickly. They join the other birds under the bird feeder collecting the seeds that fall. Also they use the tray half way up to get to the fat balls!! We love them!
Hi Maureen, that sounds wonderful! I moved houses not long ago and now no longer live near any moorhens which is a shame as it was such a delight to watch them before! They are so shy but I remember sitting quietly near the ponds and being rewarded for my patience when they would slowly creep back out. I do hope all 6 chicks make it to adulthood! Thank you for sharing your story.
Hi i am rajeev . Sory my english is not very good. I have rescued a moorhen from a dog. It is not able to walk or stand on its feet. Its legs are either broken or paralysed. So i put it in a wooden box with some straw in it. I am giving it pieces of bread and fruits. But i dont think it is taking food. Please tell me what should i give it to eat. How many days does a moorhen live without food
I hate Moorhens! They wreck all my growing vege’s don’t even think about growing tomato’s… I would love to know how to kill them…! Any ideas???
The moorhen got the name that perfectly matches it,s behavior I am a exotic duck breeder with four open dams with dense water reeds and plants. Moorhens destroy nests off other waterfowl rolling eggs out with those long toes they invade these nest boxes and make nests off any plant material they can get hold off just like rats, they do kill other small ducklings.
For sure not my favourite waterbird, it is not a waterfowl it is more like a water chicken flying vulture meat eating dragon.
We have a river at the bottom of our garden – about 200 ft away. We currently have a “resident” moorhen who is usually in the part of our garden nearest the house. It’s behaving quite oddly – flying into trees/bushes and always seems to be pecking around. It’s currently in an acacia tree about 20ft up! We love the wildlife!
Moorhens are becoming a pest in our riverside garden. We are trying to sow a wildflower meadow but they eat every seed they can find. They fly up onto our bird tables and demolish everything they can find. they are definitely putting off the small garden birds.
Hello, we live in Sarasota, Florida and I made the mistake of feeding a moorhen family some bread a couple of times. They primarily circle the small lake behind our house foraging but now that I fed them, they frequently loiter outside the door to our lanai. In fact, I’m surprised they haven’t followed me to the grocery store. For the record, I really like them and the chicks are very cute. Right now, it is the two parents and three chicks who are probably about ready to take off on their own. Wikipedia describes them as “opportunistic feeders”; they have no idea…
In India Moorhen are completely destroying my rice fields. They are picking single plant and than chew between stem and leaves. We all farmers tired from this destroyer bird. Could any body help me to find out a solution to catch them or kill them.
We live in a caravan close to a river ( 4ft ) in County Durham England, we have King fisher, mallard, pintail ducks, moorhen, dippers, grey heron, blue heron, otters, weasel, tree creeper, nut hatch, great spotted woodpecker, to name a few, we have had to use google to identify them, last year we had a crane visit during migration
Why do people always result to violence when addressing situations regarding animals eatin their crop etc… There are plenty of other solutions! I do appreciate most people on here have a very low to non existent level of education.
We have 5 chicks almost eating from my hand, very cute but nature is nature and we should accept that Moorhens do some bad things but so do all others. Ours are so tame along with the mallards and fish and even the sheep in the field opposite just see us as a food source but they all bring pleasure.
We have about 6 moorhens on the large pond on our housing development,we watch them on a regular basis,but the last couple of weeks or so they disappear and can be seen swimming in a group when it goes dark, just wondered why this is ?
An injured Moorhen seems to have taken up residence in our back garden. We live about half a mile from two lakes which are the nearest sources of open water Unfortunately he (or she) has lost a foot so therefore it hobbles around on the stump of that leg. I can only imagine that a pike has had a go at it whilst it was on one of the lakes.
We have a flock of about 9 or 10 blackbirds who also live in the garden and at first they all seemed intrigued by this strange looking visitor, however now it looks as though they have adopted it as one of their own and are quite happy to be with it. I did speak to the local animal rescue people when first seeing it but they said that if it seems to be be happy where it is, just let it be, as it may become traumatized if they try to catch it.
It appears to enjoy feeding on the fat balls and bread we put out, so it looks as though it’s we that have been adopted by it.
We live in a small town house of 22 units on Siesta Key (Sarasota),FL. with a pond that a pair of Moorhens come to and breed annually in the Spring. A similar scenario to other years this Spring with one difference. They began with about 6 chicks and in the course of two weeks give or take they were down to 2. Predators such as heron are responsible, I guess.
It has been about 6-8 weeks since chicks were born and for about the last 10 days there is just 1 lone chick paddling around. Can anyone speculate what kind(s) of things caused this chick to be abandoned?
Hi, we moved into our house 12 months ago, and have a lake at the bottom of our garden, which we had dredged, there were two moorhens with three chicks, (sadly one was found floating in the lake, not a chick more a juvenile – any ideas how this could have happened?)
This year we made a duck Island for them, a duck house in each corner, we now have six chicks.
We were hoping to get some ducks, but have been told that the moorhens will eat their eggs, is this true ?
Was just looking up on the net to see how many eggs a moorhen lays. I have a small lake in Brittany France and up until last year there were no ducks etc at all but late last year, I heard them first but couldn’t see who was making that racket until a few days later I spotted one closely followed by another. Man and wife I think!!! This year I have seen three in one go so I’m hoping for a few more, hence the question. I have come to really like them particularly when they prefer to ‘walk’ on water. I will keep on the lookout hopefully for some chicks.
Thought I would share that with you.
Why does I am guessing a male chasing a female and pecking her everywhere he can and chasing her now stop. Its July 30th and would think mating season over.
I work near London and each day after lunch feed the local river birds whilst on a walk recently I have seemed to adopted a new moorhen he seems to know when I’m walking by as he now waits for me each day, really sweet and unusual as I have read they are shy but this one spots me and flys straight over lol guess it knows I’m no danger to it and knows he will be fed so funny
We recently moved to SWFL and have a lake in our backyard. We’ve watched a family of moorhens since babies were born shortly after we moved in (September 2018). One baby didn’t make it – maybe the local gator or a hawk got it? The rest are fed daily by us and sometimes act like they want to be more friendly but are scared. They share the birdseed we put out for our doves along with the ibis (they can be a pain). We love our moorhens and worry when they are not around for feeding time. They have actually woken us up on the weekend, squealing for food LOL I love watching them.
We have a pair adult and a pair of juvenile moorhens that visit our garden everyday. First thing in the morning they wait for the scrapings from the porridge saucepan to be put out for them. We have had several pairs over the past 10 years visiting us for food, I can only presume these are all related .
This year are the most tame of all, they actually wait on the back door step for the food to be taken out.
They pop over from the main pond in our village several times a day for goodies we throw to them .
I love how they have become to trust us. They are such beautiful creatures both in colour and personality.
There was a momma and a baby moorhen and now just the mamma . Can’t find baby anywhere. I was just wondering what could have happened to the baby. I would watch mama search for food n feed baby… but no more
We have a pair of Moorhens on our pond outside our appartment block this year she has had 4 clutches of chicks starting earlier in the year. Some have been lost to a heron who comes quite frequently but some are now juveniles who after reading about them I understand why they babysit them , in the last couple of days iv noticed the older bird shooing some of the juveniles off which I believe to be because they are now too old to stay . I have bird phobia but I do like to watch these little ones grow up .
We have many Moorhens that live on a large pond behind our home. They can be very aggressive attacking our windows (mirror reflection) during the mating season. We now have ordered a white window spray that will dull the mirror effect during the season. They never fly into our backyard, they walk between the fence poles. Only problems are they shit on mu pool deck and startle the hell out of me when I don’t see them coming. We live in Southern Florida.
We rescued a hatchling moorhen about 5 weeks ago, if the blog is still running or there is still interest we have accounts of adventures and photo/video we are happy to share
We are! Please do share 🙂
I have 6 chicks in my pond which are 8 weeks old.
3 more hatched last week and the older chicks are joining in with the feeding which is good to see lol
we have had moorhens in our garden for about 16 years, always a pair. We feed them mixed corn and dried worms.
Every year we see chick’s as many as seven little fluffy black balls but as the days go by the number dwindles to nothing.
This year, great news, two chicks have survived and are growing fine. Although they can feed themselves the parents still spoil them.
As said, very shy but although they leave when we appear it is no longer a panic dash for the river.
I live in South Florida and we have a lake about 30 feet behind our house. The lake is exactly the size of a football field. There are a family of 14 moorhen who lives in the lake and every day they come up to our backyard for bread or seeds. If they hear my voice they will literally swim across the lake in a pack and then run up to me for bread. They don’t seem to be shy at all, and they are really fun to watch. The babies are more timid than the adults. The parents and siblings will take the babies the bread and feed them first before they eat themselves.
Hi, I live next to a natural pond that has wild ducks and moorhens. We have some juveniles babysitting for younger ones and we can hand feed them. One of them is brave enough he runs straight over and pecks right out our hands. They love climbing things too and frequently flap up onto chairs – amazing creatures and truly not as shy as many think!
we have a flock of moorhens living on our property for the past 10 years , usually there are two adult pairs in residence at either end both of which have ponds, there are very often 12 to fifteen juveniles representing 1 to 2 previous broods and looking after latest chicks, lots of amazing sounds, fighting, chasing they are a joy, exept for digging up my potatoes and eating them also eating other fruit and veg
these birds are great, very territorial, they chase away other birds or ducks that are more menacing, specially when food is involved, guess they’re used to me know, if i’m toiling in the lake or in the yard they come and start foraging real close and follow me around, same if im lounging around, they respond to music also, again they come real close and just peck at weeds, a couple with recently hatched birds is what i have, one comes and takes bread from my hand, after walking in a zigzag pattern getting closer each time, they are skittish though, can’t make sudden moves, as you might be able to tell i’m obsessed with these things.
you tube has videos on trapping them seems they are consumed in some countries, iguanas and herons eat their eggs,
My male Guinea fowl has befriended two moorhens which live in a pond near me. I always wondered, what happens to them when water dries for 3 months and when the rains begin, they appear again. Where do they go during dry season? Do they hibernate?
Our Moorhenfamily began in a protected corner of a row boat hooked up by our dock. They nested and 3 babies emerged one day. After a few weeks they seemed to leave the boat, come back, leave again, …. When we hadn’t seen them for a few days, the boat owner took back possession of the boat, cleaned it, and moved it away from the spot. The Moorhens seemed very confused when they did come back. It has now been about 3 weeks since the boat was moved. The male keeps coming back and just sits and watches the spot. I occasionally see the female but not the babies. Do Moorhens get depressed?