2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Birds

Common Moorhen
Common Moorhen
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Genus: Gallinula
Brisson, 1760
  • Samoan Wood Rail, Gallinula pacifica (sometimes placed in genus Pareudiastes, extinct?)
  • Makira Wood Rail, Gallinula silvestris (sometimes placed in genus Pareudiastes or Edithornis, extinct?)
  • Tristan Moorhen, Gallinula nesiotis ( extinct)
  • Gough Island Moorhen, Gallinula comeri
  • Common Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus
  • Dusky Moorhen, Gallinula tenebrosa
  • Lesser Moorhen, Gallinula angulata
  • Spot-flanked Gallinule, Gallinula melanops
  • Black-tailed Native-hen, Gallinula ventralis
  • Tasmanian Native-hen, Gallinula mortierii


The moorhens are medium-sized water birds which are members of the rail family Rallidae. They constitute the genus Gallinula. They are relatives of coots, and because of their apparently nervous behaviour (frequently twitching tail and neck) are sometimes called skitty coots.

These rails are all brown and black with some white markings in plumage, and, unlike many of the rails, they are usually easy to see, feeding in open water margins rather than skulking in reedbeds.

They tend to have short, rounded wings and be weak fliers, although usually capable of covering long distances; the Common Moorhen in particular migrates up to 2,000 km from some of its breeding areas in the colder parts of Siberia. Those that migrate do so at night. The Gough Island Moorhen, on the other hand, is considered almost flightless - it can only flutter some meters.

Moorhens can walk very well on strong legs, and have long toes that are well adapted to soft, uneven surfaces.

These birds are omnivorous, taking plant material, small animals and eggs. They are aggressively territorial during the breeding season, but are otherwise often found in sizeable flocks on the shallow vegetated lakes they prefer.

A fossil species, Gallinula kansarum, is known from Late Pliocene deposits in Kansas. In addition, 2 chronosubspecies of extant species have been described: Gallinula chloropus brodkorbi from the Pleistocene of Ichetucknee River, and the doubtfully distinct Late Pliocene/Early Pleistocene Gallinula mortierii reperta which refers to the population of the Tasmanian Native-hen that once inhabited mainland Australia where the species became extinct at the end of the last ice age (Olson 1975; Baird, 1984).

Apart from the 3 extinctions in more recent times, 2 species have gone extinct as a consequnce of early human settlement: Hodgen's Waterhen (Gallinula hodgenorum) of New Zealand, and the undescribed Viti Levu Gallinule of Fiji which would either be separated in Pareudiastes if that genus is considered valid, or may be a completely new genus. Similarly, the undescribed Mangaia "Swamphen" which is currently tentatively assigned to Porphyrio may belong to Gallinula/Pareudiastes.

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