Moorhens are a common sight found in most inland waterways , rivers and lakes in England , South Wales and the lowlands of Scotland. Moorhens are blackish with a red and yellow beak and long, green legs. Seen closer-up, they have a dark brown back and wings and a more bluish-black belly, with white stripes on the flanks. Moorhen chicks have black, downy feathers except round the eye and bill. Juveniles have browner underparts and lack the red frontal shield. UK breeding birds are residents and seldom travel far, but have been known to fly short distances , even across the English Channel during winter.
They build their nest from the broad leaves of aquatic plants, the female laying an average of six eggs and sharing the three weeks of incubation with the male. Moorhens usually raise two broods of chicks, sometimes even three, and adopt an unusual breeding strategy in which the first-brood chicks help to feed their younger siblings from the second nest, thus helping to relieve the burden on their parents and giving themselves some practice for their own breeding attempts in the next year.
Moorhens feed both on water and land and so have a varied diet of leaves, seeds, berries, worms, snails and fish, and also other birds’ eggs.
The population declined in the 1970s but has since been recovering. The decline seemed to be a result of reduced clutch size and this in turn may be caused by the spread of American mink Mustela vison, which predates birds’ nests along waterways. Classified as green in the UK under birds of concern, as with most wildlife in the UK the Moorhen is protected under the wildlife and countryside act , 1981.
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