British wildlife recordings
Rallus aquaticus : Water Rail - Rallidae
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Brownsea Island, Dorset: OS Grid Reference(402500,88500)
Water Rail, Rallus aquaticus
The call of the male water rail, recorded on Brownsea Island, Dorset. This secretive bird is much more often heard than it is seen. It is slightly smaller than a moorhen and has streaky brown upperparts, slate-blue underparts, grey and white barring on the flanks, and a long red bill and long toes. The water rail rarely emerges from dense reed-beds and marshes with a thick vegetation cover, and tends to be shy and skulking. The one exception to this being when it is driven out of the vegetation in search of food during harsh winters. It feeds on land or in water, and will eat anything from small fish and freshwater shrimps to frogs, snails, or the roots and shoots of aquatic plants. In the breeding season, the male makes a variety of grunts and squeals, not unlike that of a young piglet. The nest is usually situated near the ground in dense vegetation, and the parents may raise two broods of between five and twelve eggs. Despite being difficult to accurately assess, the population is thought to be between 450 to 900 pairs. Historically, the water rail was a much more common bird, but has suffered from severe loss of habitat through drainage, and it is thought numbers are still declining.