Common Moorhen

Common Moorhen

Waterhen, Swamp chicken

Gallinula chloropus
Population size
2.9-6.2 mln
Life Span
3 yrs
35 km/h
192-500 g
30-38 cm
50-62 cm

The Сommon moorhen is a ground-dwelling water bird that is distributed across Europe, Asia, and Africa. It has dark plumage apart from the white undertail, yellow legs, and a red frontal shield. Young birds are browner and lack the red shield. The male and female look similar, although the female is usually slightly larger.


Сommon moorhens are widespread across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Populations in areas where the waters freeze, such as eastern Europe, will migrate to more temperate climates. In China, Common moorhens are largely resident south of the Yangtze River, whilst northern populations migrate in the winter. These birds live around well-vegetated marshes, ponds, canals, and other wetlands. They can even be found in city parks and urban areas.

Common Moorhen habitat map


Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Сommon moorhens are diurnal birds that dpend their time swimming or walking along the shore. They forage beside or in the water, sometimes walking on lilypads or upending in the water to feed. They are often secretive but can become tame in some areas. Outside of the breeding season, Common moorhens prefer to spend their time alone; however, during the winter they may gather in groups to feed on sheltered lakes and ponds. In order to communicate with each other, these birds will give a wide range of gargling calls and will emit loud hisses when threatened.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Сommon moorhens have an omnivorous diet. They feed on a wide variety of vegetable material, seeds, and small aquatic creatures. The birds will also consume small fish, algae, insects, tadpoles, grass, berries, warms, and even snails.

Mating Habits

mid-March to mid-May in temperate regions
3 weeks
8 eggs

Сommon moorhens are monogamous and territorial. They form pair-bonds that may last for several years. Pairs nest solitarily usually on top of thick mats of aquatic plants but may also nest in trees, shrubs, or on the ground in dense vegetation. Their nest is a wide shallow cup made with dead vegetation and lined with grass and leaves. Laying starts in spring, between mid-March and mid-May in Northern hemisphere temperate regions. About 8 eggs are usually laid per female early in the season. Incubation lasts about three weeks. The chicks are precocial; they are hatched with eyes open and are covered in blackish down. Both parents incubate and feed the young. They fledge after 40-50 days, become independent usually a few weeks thereafter, and may raise their first brood the next spring.


Population threats

Сommon moorhens are widespread across their wide range. However, in some areas populations of this species suffer from serve weather, habitat loss, pollution, and hunting. These birds are also sensitive to avian influenza disease and avian botulism which outbreaks can be a threat in the future.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total Common moorhen population size is around 2,900,000-6,200,000 individuals. It is estimated that European population consists of around 4,956,000-8,400,000 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The name 'mor-hen' has been recorded in English since the 13th century. The word 'moor' here is an old sense meaning marsh, however, these birds are not usually found in moorland.
  • Common moorhens are known to swallow sand and gravels in order to help digest the vegetal food.
  • During the breeding season, Common moorhens build several nests; once the chicks leave the main nest, they will use the rest nests for sleeping at night.
  • When threatened, Common moorhen chicks may cling to the parents' body, after which the adult birds fly away to safety and carry their offspring with them.


1. Common Moorhen on Wikipedia -
2. Common Moorhen on The IUCN Red List site -

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