Uncommon Birds 1 – The Water Rail

By | February 20, 2016

Bird Watching - 2016-02-09 Martin Mere-4Seen (through heavy rain) at Martin Mere on February 9th 2016 in mid afternoon from Kingfisher Hide, immediately below the hide in a shallow pool amidst reedbeds 10 metres away.


Status: Resident breeder and migrant winter (October – March) visitor.

Recognition: Lead grey face and breast, chestnut upper including cap with black streaks, long down curved dull red bill, black and white striped belly, short upright tail with white/cream underside, 23-26cm long including bill. Smaller than a moorhen. It has a repertoire of calls including grunts, groans, whistles, squeaks and squeals, often silent during daylight hours in winter, but calls audible after dark.

Habitat: All types of standing water including small ponds, large meres, wetlands, marshes,especially favouring rushes, sedges and phragmites reeds.  They feed on aquatic invertebrates, small fish, amphibians (frogs), insects, and vegetable matter including rhizomes.

Abundance: The UK population is thought to be in excess of 1000 breeding pairs (Brown and Grice 2005) but this number is swollen from September to spring as migrants arrive from northern Europe and Iceland. Because of the birds elusive habit it is impossible to be sure of population numbers and some experts think the quoted numbers underestimate the actual resident population. Water Rails are on the Amber List of rare birds following the significant decline in numbers between 1970 and 1990. Birds are mostly seen in single numbers, but in favoured breeding grounds (Dee Estuary) flocks of 20-30 are occasionally recorded. Have been sighted at most of the wetland reserves in the NW of England. Resident breeding bird present in the UK all year.

Acknowledgements: Collins Bird Guide UK and Europe;  Collins BTO Guide to British Birds;  Bird Atlas of Cheshire (CAWOS);  British Birds (AA)

Last Updated on February 20, 2016