It is unusual to find a wetland in the Hunter Valley that does not have at least one Dusky Moorhen in residence.
These medium-sized water birds are notable for their very striking, yellow-tipped red bill and red frontal shield. This feature is particularly noticeable in the breeding season which runs from August to September each year.
A member of the Rail family, these birds have a dark grey body with brownish wings and rump and a black tail with white side feathers, shown to effect when the tail is flicked up and down.
Moorhens are common in south-east and south-west Australia and uncommon in the north of the country. They prefer fresh water, but are also found in brackish, more coastal wetlands.
They can be found feeding in the water, or on land and prefer deep water with reedy margins and grassy banks for grazing. Their diet consists of land and aquatic plants, insects, fish, molluscs, and worms. They will "upend" like ducks to reach tasty underwater plants.
Dusky Moorhens are quite shy and will quickly dash into the reeds or swim out from the bank if they feel threatened. At night, the birds roost up to two metres above the water on group roosting platforms constructed in the reeds or in small shrubs.
They have a complex and unusual social structure. They are extremely territorial particularly during the breeding season. They form small breeding groups of two to seven individual birds, made up of approximately three males to every female. Females initiate courtship and mate with all the males. Members of the group co-operatively build a nest of aquatic vegetation in the reeds or at the base of a tree in the water. Reeds are pulled down and pressed into shape by the weight of the birds, and plant matter is added.
Five to eight eggs are produced and often there are two broods each year. Newly hatched chicks are taken to a second nest in deeper water for a few days and are then taken on foraging trips by the adult birds, one at a time.
Seaham Swamp is full of Moorhens and chicks this week, perhaps due to rain.
Hunter Bird Observers Club: www.hboc.org.au
Do you know you can subscribe to get full access to all Maitland Mercury stories? Subscribing supports us in our local news coverage. To subscribe, click here.