British wildlife recordings

Rallus aquaticus : Water Rail - Rallidae

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  • Shelf mark

    W1CDR0001383 BD9

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  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Brownsea Island, Dorset: OS Grid Reference(402500,88500)

  • Recordist

    Shove, Lawrence

  • Species

    Water Rail, Rallus aquaticus

  • Description

    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.

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