Common Moorhen

Gallinula chloropus

The most widely distributed member of the rail family, the Common Moorhen inhabits marshes and ponds from Canada to Chile, from northern Europe to southern Africa, and across Asia to the Pacific. Vocal and boldly marked, the species can be quite conspicuous, sometimes using its long toes to walk atop floating vegetation.

Interesting Information

  • The Common Moorhen has long toes that makes it possible to walk on soft mud and floating vegetation. The toes have no lobes or webbing to help in swimming, but the moorhen is a good swimmer anyway.

  • The Common Moorhen sometimes lifts its feet out of the water in front of the body while swimming, perhaps to pass over vegetation.

  • Newly hatched chicks of the Common Moorhen have spurs on their wings that help them climb into the nest or grab emergent vegetation.

  • Twelve subspecies of Common Gallinule are recognized from around the world, most differing only in size or brightness of plumage. One subspecies is found only in the Hawaiian Islands and has been known as the Hawaiian Gallinule.


Adult Description

  • Size: 32-35 cm (13-14 in)

  • Wingspan: 54-62 cm (21-24 in)

  • Weight: 310-456 g (10.94-16.1 ounces)

  • Dark, with white flank stripe.

  • Red bill and forehead.

  • Swims on surface of water like a duck.

  • Bill triangular like a chicken's, not flat like a duck's.

  • White stripe on sides of undertail.

Sex Differences

Sexes similar, male slightly larger.

Breeding (Alternate) Plumage:

Mostly blackish body, brown wings, and white flank stripe. Undertail white with a black line in middle. Forehead shield and bill bright red; bill with yellow tip. Legs olive-yellow. Ring of scarlet just below thigh feathers.

Nonbreeding (Basic) Plumage:

Chin, throat, and underparts paler than on breeding adult. Bill and forehead shield dusky red.


Juvenile brownish-gray with drab maroon bill and no frontal shield.


Photo taken from: The Sibley Field Guide by David Allen Sibley

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Freshwater or brackish marshes with tall emergent vegetation, ponds, canals, and rice fields.


Picks food from water surface or from emergent plants while walking or swimming. Dips head, dabbles, and occasionally dives. Flips floating leaves to take snails clinging to undersides.


Seeds of grasses and sedges, and some snails.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Genus: Gallinula
Species: Gallinula chloropus
    Subspecies: Gallinula chloropus barbadensis
  Gallinula chloropus cachinnans
  Gallinula chloropus cerceris
  Gallinula chloropus chloropus
  Gallinula chloropus galeata
  Gallinula chloropus garmani
  Gallinula chloropus guami
  Gallinula chloropus meridionalis
  Gallinula chloropus orientalis
  Gallinula chloropus pauxilla

Similar Species

  • Adult Purple Gallinule has blue body plumage, green wings, and a blue frontal shield, and lacks white flank stripe. Juvenile Purple Gallinule has tawny neck and head, mostly white underparts, and greenish wings. Purple Gallinule lacks black line down the middle of the undertail coverts.

  • American Coot is stockier, has white bill, unmarked flanks, and mostly dark undertail coverts.

Bird Sound

A highly varied repertoire of calls, including clucks, whinnies, cackles, squawks, and yelps.

Eggs look like this

Photo taken from: ARCTOS Collaborative Collection Management Solution


Common Moorhen