Bird Photo Challenge #7: Dusky Moorhen

A jittery but endearing waterbird, the Dusky Moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa) can often be seen in small groups and in the company of other water birds.  At this time of year, with its cute little chicks in tow, its attracts your attention. Even though it is a fairly common bird, it is hard to photograph because it is so skittish, and thus makes a gratifying subject for our #7 Bird Photography Challenge.

What does it look like?


A Dusky Moorhen showing its bright colours

The Dusky Moorhen is a dark grey-black waterbird with a white under-tail and colourful red bill with a canary yellow tip and an orangy-red facial shield extending between its eyes. It has orange-yellow legs, and whopping big yellow feet and toes which make it surefooted when running over lily pads or mud. On land the Dusky takes slow deliberate steps with those big feet, which gives it a rather comical walk.  This is a medium-size bird of about 36cms long which belongs to the rail family.

How does it behave?

The Dusky Moorhen feeds on algae, grasses and water plants, as well as seeds and fruits, molluscs and invertebrates.  It does not dive when feeding, its white tail feathers always visible above water when upended.



The Dusky Moorhen is sedentary and quite territorial.  During the breeding season, it forms communal groups of two to seven birds, with all members defending their joint territory. There are typically twice the number of males compared to females in each group.  More than one female may lay eggs in the same bulky nest made of grass, sticks or reeds, set like a raft slightly above the water’s edge.  All moorhens in the group share in the incubation of the eggs and looking after the young.

Did you know?

Even though the Duskies appear shy, they fight amongst themselves, with much screeching and chasing going on.  With generally two or three times more males than females in a group, fights break out regularly. It is easy to pick the winner of any dispute though.  Look at the size of the frontal shield amongst the protagonists: the bigger the shield, the bigger the winner!

 Where is it found?

The Dusky Moorhen is widespread in Eastern and Southern Australia as well as New Guinea.  It frequents wetlands, swamps, rivers and artificial waterways.  It enjoys open water and water margins with reeds and rushes, but can also be found grazing on grass close to water.

The photos were taken at Lake Pertobe in Warrnambool, on Victoria’s far southwest coast in late November 2014, when the chicks were still little.  A hand held Canon 60D and EF 100-400 lens was used to capture the shots.  Click on any image to display in full screen.

15 thoughts on “Bird Photo Challenge #7: Dusky Moorhen

  1. Chris I had no idea of the breeding habits of this often sighted bird, great photos, loved the chicks

    • Yes, I discovered the Lake Borrie Wetlands just recently and was absolutely amazed at the variety of bird species I had never seen or been able to photograph before! Plenty of material for future bird posts… I spent many stunning hours exploring. I even managed to get Mercy bogged and had to get towed out, but that’s another story😝

  2. Oh I just love the fuzzy baby photos! I’ve never seen/heard of this bird before, but feel well informed now. 🙂

    • Hi Nic – glad to hear it… That’s the idea of these posts: I learn about the birds I photograph and try to find interesting bits to write about and surprise our readers☺️ And yes the chicks are quite endearing… It looks like the top of their head has been pecked bare, but it’s the shield growing!

  3. Hi Chris & Wade,I really enjoy following your posts,but when I look at the dark cold sky,& the ” lumpy” seas,give me terra firma anytime…..I think it’s quite amazing what you’ve achieved in altering the look of that tern in flight…..& what a great shot of the albertross a lovely bird ,so graceful in flight.We first saw them in a rookery at the bottom of the South Island of N.Z…Love Frank& Pam

    Sent from my iPad


    • Really pleased you are enjoying the posts Frank and Pam; we like sharing what we do with family and friends and the website makes it easy to show photos. That way you are involved in our sea voyages without the rough seas! Love – Wade and Chris

  4. Lovely series of images, Chris! You did a great job. There is a similar gallinule that is a summer visitor to eastern Canada, but here on the west coast we just have coots and rails. Very informative!

  5. I’m hoping someone can answer me here. I was picking up rubbish and plastic water bottles at a park by a pond, and what appeared as a dusky moorhen was packing to and fro on its own by the edge. I wanted to get closer just to get rid of the bottles about to enter the water, but this bird kept following me around. I wasn’t sure if it was breeding and being territorial, or if it was just curious. Later I was throwing birdseed in the hope of distracting it (so that I could pick up those empty bottles near it) and it ignored the seeds and kept walking toward me. I have never heard of such birds being aggressive toward humans and am just wondering if anyone can explain why it stayed in that area (by the pond) and then when I came near it, kept walking directly toward me, even up to around 10 metres distance.

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