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white breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) | by slr2006
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white breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)

Seen At Harden ng Rosas Quezon City near UP diliman

White-breasted Waterhens are the most common of the Rail family in Singapore, often heard before they are seen. Their loud quarrelsome calls sound like their Malay name, Ruak Ruak. They are more vocal at dawn and dusk.


White-breasted Waterhens eat mainly seeds, insects and small fish. They also nibble on worms and small snails; and snack on shoots and roots of marsh plants. They forage on the ground, pecking at titbits in chicken-like movements, hence their other Malay name: Ayam Ayam. Their enormous feet, constantly flicking tails and inquisitive nature make them very amusing birds to observe.


They also often forage above ground, in low bushes and small trees, but their long toes make them rather clumsy among the branches. Their slender body allows them to quickly and quietly slip through the undergrowth.

In Sungei Buloh, White-breasted Waterhens can be seen stepping on lotus leaves searching for titbits. But inevitably, the leaf they are on slowly sinks. They then step off to the next leaf. Although they are associated with water and do swim, they are not particularly good swimmers.


White-breasted Waterhens forage alone or in pairs. They are active during the day. When alarmed, may fly or run into dense undergrowth, dashing in with their heads down. They roost in low bushes and trees at night.

Main features: Large (33cm); upperparts black; white face, belly; chestnut flanks and undertail coverts; bill green or yellow, red at the base; legs yellowish green. Genders look alike.

Juvenile: Dirtier looking, overall grey-brown; upperparts browner; white replaced by dark grey; bill grey.


Call: Described as a dawn chorus lasting several minutes of frog-like croaking and grunting followed by regular u-wak. Also a soft, hollow hoop repeated monotonously; alarm call is a high-pitched hik.


In flight: Flies with legs dangling.


Similar birds: Common Moorhen: their juveniles look similar. But the Common Moorhen's has a white under tail covert while the White-breasted Waterhen's is cinnamon.



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Taken on August 1, 2006