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?
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.