Monday, 8 December 2014

Micklethwaite Moorhens With New Chicks: One Day Old Moorhen Chicks

The First Moorhen Chicks on Bingley Canal: One Day Old Moorhen Chicks in the Nest
adult moorhens and nest
Moorhen nest, two adult moorhens

On 17th April the behavour of the moorhens that are nesting at Micklethwaite Wharf near Bingley, West Yorkshire, changed. These fiesty little birds had been observed carrying nesting material - Moorhens are compulsive nest-builders. Now, however, they were also carrying food. This feeding behaviour is typical of moorhens and signals the arrival of the first chicks. Before the eggs hatch, adults are happy to feed themselves away from the nest and simply do 'shift changes' where one adult goes to the nest to sit on the eggs when the other leaves to feed. Once you see a moorhen carrying food and offering it to the adult on the nest, you can be sure there are chicks there. All you need do is be patient and wait for the little heads to appear.

moorhen and moorhen chicks in the nest
adult moorhen with one-day old moorhen chicks in the nest

Watching moorhens

I am really lucky to be able to observe there moorhens up close and personal. For reasons known only to themselves they have chosen to build a nest on a stone out into the canal. Perhaps it is safer from predators. It is some distance from the bank where the tow path runs so they are relatively safe, except for wandering cows but that is a different story.
It does make it easy to monitor them daily and it is just wonderful to be able to see bird behaviour that would otherwise be hidden away in bushes and trees.
The moorhens come back to the same mate and the same territory every year. The nest is a messy affair but they are nothing if not enterprising in what they take to fill and line it.
adult moorhen carrying nesting material
adult moorhen carrying nesting material

adult moorhen on nest with chicks
moorhen chick climbing into nest

Information about moorhen chicks

  1. Moorhen chicks hatch after around 20-21 days.
  2. Despite having what look like bug eyes, the moorhen chicks are born able to see.
  3. They have what look like red and yellow beaks and a bald reddish patch on the top of their head. Often the only way to count how many there are in the nest, is to count the red spots. On the 17th five red bits could be seen.
  4. Moorhen chicks are fed and brooded by both parents.
  5. The chicks spend only the first day confined to the nest although some are more adventurous. In this particular brood two kept falling out of the nest on the first evening but with huge black feet they had no problem regaining the nest.
  6. After the first day, you can see them out of the nest on the nearest shore with one or other of the adults.
  7. Moorhen chicks are fed by the adults for around 6 weeks after they hatch although they do graze some for themselves.
  8. They are excellent climbers - those big feet come in handy right from the start and they will clamber up anything.
  9. The adults can have 2 or 3 broods a year and the juvenile chicks from early broods help to look after later broods.
  10. As they approach adulthood, the juveniles are taken on a journey by the female to explore new territories.

adult moorhen with chicks in nest
adult moorhen with chicks in nest

adult moorhen with chicks in nest
adult moorhen with chicks in nest

Moorhen Facts - Geek Stuff

Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Species: Gallinual chloropus
Common Name: Moorhen
The moorhen is a small water bird belonging to the raill family. They are a common sight on most ponds, rivers and lakes. It is a greyish/black bird, about the size of a pigeon, with glossy brown underbelly. Most noticeable is the red shield on the forehead and beak and yellow tip. The genders are very similar especially seen at a distance, but the female has a paler undercarriage. In addition her beak is slightly slimmer and longer than the male's.
They appear fairly shy birds, skittering away over water to find cover and their long legs and feet are ideal for traversing boggy ground and getting through vegetation. They are, however, quiet fiesty birds and will take on intruders much larger than themselves when they are nesting or caring for young. I once watched one take on a flamingo at Martin Mere when it strayed too close to the nest.
They make diligent parents, feeding the young with great delicacy.
I hope you come back to share more of my moorhen piccies.

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