Water Rail

Scientific name: Rallus aquaticus

Did you know: The Water Rail, with its distinctive pig-like squeals and grunts, is more often heard than seen? This secretive bird prefers the cover of dense vegetation, making it challenging to spot.

What Do Water Rails Look Like? (How to Identify Them)

The Water Rail is smaller and slimmer than a Moorhen bird, with a secretive nature that makes it challenging to observe during the breeding season. Easily distinguishable by its chestnut-brown and black upper bodies, grey face and lower bodies, and black-and-white barred flanks, this bird boasts a long red-coloured bill. 

During winter when it becomes more numerous, spotting the Water Rail becomes relatively easier. 

Differences Between Male And Female Water Rails

The Water Rail exhibits minimal sexual dimorphism. Males typically weigh between 114-164g, while females are slightly lighter at 92-107g. The key distinguishing feature is the bill’s size, with females having a slightly more slender bill. However, determining the sex based on measurements alone can be unreliable.

What Do Water Rails Eat?

Water Rails are omnivorous, with a diet primarily consisting of snails, small fish, and insects during the summer months. As winter approaches, they shift towards berries and plant stems. 

The bird’s territorial nature persists even after breeding, leading them to aggressively defend their feeding areas during winter.

Where Do Water Rails Live? (Including Migration Info)

Water Rails prefer well-vegetated wetlands, including reed beds and marshy sites with tall, dense vegetation. They construct nests above the water level using available plants. The species breeds in temperate Eurasia, from Iceland to North Africa and Saudi Arabia. 

While some populations do migrate, those in milder regions are permanent residents. The peak migration period is from September to October, with a return to breeding grounds from March to mid-April.

Bird Calls & Songs (The Unique Voices of Water Rails)

Water Rails are vocal birds, known for their distinctive call, referred to as “sharming.” This call, a series of grunts followed by a piglet-like squeal and more grunts, serves as a territorial marker, an alarm, and an announcement. 

During courtship, both sexes engage in a tyick-tyick-tyick song, often ending with a trill from the female. The rail’s vocalisations are most pronounced during territory establishment and early in the breeding season.

Fun Water Rail Facts (Kid Friendly)

  • Water Rails are not often seen in flight, as they prefer to migrate under the cover of darkness.
  • The winter call of Water Rails is often described as a ‘pig-like’ squeal, earning it the nickname ‘sharming.’
  • This shy bird, a member of the crake family, is more frequently heard than seen, making it a challenging species to census.
  • Around 4,000 pairs of Water Rails breed in the UK, and during winter, individuals from Europe bolster their numbers.
  • Water Rails are versatile foragers, adapting to different hunting areas and exhibiting unique feeding behaviours, such as impaling or drowning prey.

Water Rail Images

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Male
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Female
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Hatchling
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Nestling
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Chick
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Fledgling
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Juvenile

Facts About The Water Rail

Diet: Omnivorous - mainly small fish, snails and insects.
Bird Family: Rails, crakes and coots
Length: 23-28cm
Wingspan: 38-45cm
Weight: 80-180g
Scientific Name: Rallus aquaticus

The Water Rail Can Be Seen In The UK During The Following Months

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December