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Moorhens of Martinmere
A study
By: psilo 
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Even if you do not know the name, everyone knows the Moorhen. It is a small black waterbird, with a red and yellow beak that is found on ponds, lakes and slow moving rivers. In the wild it is very shy and difficult to get close to which means that it is a bird that often goes unnoticed. People also see the moorhen as being a rather bland, dull black, uninteresting bird. Nothing could be further from the truth and through this study I hope to show you that this bird is a gutsy, courageous, dedicated and extremely beautiful bird.
When I started visiting Martinmere over 8 months ago I noticed that the Moorhens were very different to the ones found in the wild. Where the wild ones were shy and elusive, the Moorhen here were tame and totally untroubled by large numbers of people. As I began to watch and photograph them I found that here was the perfect place to study them. They still did the same things through instinct that wild birds did but I had the chance to watch them up close. Here is a study of several pairs of Moorhens thoughout the breeding season of 2004.
I expect that very few people have actually taken the time out to really look closely at a Moorhen. A small black water bird is not a description that does this bird justice. Like the Magpie its plumage is not really black but has an iridescense of green, purple and blue, which can change colour depending on where the light hits it. Its beak is also quite a work of art. As the photo on the right shows it is far from just being red but is also intricately marbled with yellow. Sadly from a distance in the wild this is all too often missed but up close at Martinmere it is one of natures little works of art.
Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus) are part of the Gallinule family. They are related to the Jacanas and lily trotters of Africa. Although their appearances differ they have one major similarity, their feet. All members of the gallinule family have long toed feet which enables them to walk across lily pads or across heavily vegetated water. The length of the toes spreads their body weight and prevents them from sinking. Moorhens prefer to nest out on rafts on the water in the wild, usually built on floating vegetation, so long toes are a real bonus.
As I said at the beginning Moorhens are very dedicated birds. This is most apparent when it comes to producing and rearing a family. Nest building is a role that is taken on by both the male and the female. One of the birds will go out and find nesting material to take to the other who then constructs the nest. Nests are constructed from whatever vegetation is around. Sometimes it is made out of twigs and sometimes out of reeds. Also some nests are more elaborate that others. I have seen some nests that have been built up to a foot or more, whilst some nests are incredibly shallow and look like they have been constructed with very little thought at all.
Martinmere is a centre for the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust (WWT) It can be found in the Northwest of the UK. Its main purpose is in the conservation of threatened wildfowl species across the world. Its wild mere is also a nationally important feeding ground for thousands of Whooper swans and other wintering wildfowl. For more information see:



Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust

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