Sunday, 7 December 2014

Watching Moorhens Nest

My favourite moorhens nest

moorhens building nest
Micklethwaite Moorhens building their nest
I'm was lucky enough to be able to document the whole season of a pair of moorhens. Sadly, with new 'improvements' made to that part of the canal, this opportunity will never come again so these are images are particularly precious.
This photo journal features original pictures. The diary follows the progress of one Moorhen nest atGreenhill and includes some interesting observations into bird behaviour.
In 2010 a mating pair of Moorhens successfully brought up 6 chicks from a nest built out onto the canal at Micklethwaite Wharf, near Bingley, West Yorkshire. This nest year, after a shaky start, they were back. Most Moorhens keep their nests well hidden. Not so this pair. They choose to build on an old wood piling and a stone out into the canal. I expect they feel secure and it certainly provides wonderful sightings for the waterfowl photographer.
Last year I documented the first brood of 6 hatched here plus the lone survivor of a second brood that was looked after by both juvenile Moorhens from the first brood and the adults.
As is usual, during the winter months, the pair had nothing to do with each other but come February, they come back together again. At first it seemed that was just a fleeting encounter. One adult started building a nest but it was uncertain whether their mating was productive until much later. Scroll down to see their pictures.

A moorhen's nest appears

moorhen nest
the start of a moorhen nest
 I was a bit doubtful when the adult moorhens didn't appear to be spending much time in each other's company in February and early March. I've since learned that is quite normal. Close as they seem during the breeding season, and despite the fact they come back to the same mate, they lead very separate lives for most of the year.  Then the beginnings of a nest were seen in mid March but was this just a reflex behaviour pattern or was there going to be a nest?  Yes. there was going to be a nest.

Nesting Moorhens

nesting moorhens
nesting moorhens
By the 24th March, the moorhens were nesting. One sat on the nest while the other foraged for food and nesting material. The fact that one was always on the nest suggests there were already eggs laid. Moorhens love building nests and nest building never stops.
Anything is used, mainly twigs and grass but also in that particular nest are feathers, one ice cream wrapper and a strip of plastic. Whenever an adult is returning to the nest it will bring back an offering and one was watched swimming from the coppice well up the canal back to the nest with an old leaf.
Both adults take turns sitting on the eggs, carefully changing shifts every half an hour or so.
Once the eggs hatch the behavour of the adults changes only slightly. The one not on the nest now brings food for the hatchlings and the other adult. The chicks will leave the nest on day two but will keep returning to it for several weeks yet.

Shift Change!

One on, one off - the adults take turns incubating the eggs. They hatch in around 20-22 days.

Information about Moorhens

Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Species: Gallinula
Common name: Moorhen
Length: 12-14 inches
Wingspan: 20-22 inches
Weight: 9-15 ounces

I hope you come back to visit their chicks!

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