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Gallinula chloropus (Common moorhen)

Grootwaterhoender [Afrikaans]; Edenene (generic term for gallinules and moorhens) [Kwangali]; Khohonoka [South Sotho]; Kgogomeetse/Kgogonoka [North Sotho]; Nhapata (generic name for coot, gallinule, moorhen, crake or rail) [Shona]; Kukumezani (generic name for moorhen or coot) [Tsonga]; Waterhoentje [Dutch]; Gallinule poule-d'eau [French]; Teichhuhn [German]; Galinha-d'įgua [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Gruiformes > Family: Rallidae

Gallinula chloropus (Common moorhen) Gallinula chloropus (Common moorhen)
Common moorhen. [photo H. Robertson ©] Common moorhen, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs extensively worldwide between 65° North and 40° South, largely excluding forested and desert areas; it occupies much of sub-Saharan Africa. In southern Africa it is locally common in Zimbabwe, northern and south-eastern Botswana, Namibia (including the Caprivi Strip), South Africa and parts of Mozambique. It generally prefers freshwater wetlands, such as marshes, swamps, ponds, pans, streams, rivers, canals, flooded grassland and temporary pools on flood plains.

Distribution of Common moorhen in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Movements and migrations

Resident and largely sedentary, although it may move in response to changing water levels. 


Omnivorous and opportunistic, feeding on a variety of invertebrates, seeds, fruit, birds eggs and tadpoles. It does most of its foraging by walking on floating plants or swimming, grabbing prey from vegetation, the ground and the water surface. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Animals
    • invertebrates
    • vertebrates
      • tadpoles
      • small fish
      • carrion
      • offal
      • bird eggs
  • Plants
    • fruit
    • leaves
    • seeds


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, breeding in cooperative groups which usually consist of the breeding pair and a number of helpers. These are usually juveniles from the previous brood brought up by the pair, as it usually rears multiple broods per breeding season.
  • The nest (see images below) is built by the female with material provided by the male, consisting of a a shallow bowl of plant stems and sedges. It is typically hidden in or between clumps of reeds (Phragmites), sedges or Bulrushes (Typha capensis), or in the low branches of a flooded tree.
Gallinula chloropus (Common moorhen)

Common moorhen at its nest, Kgomo-Kgomo, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

Common moorhen on nest. [photo Peter Steyn ©]

Gallinula chloropus (Common moorhen)

Common moorhen with chicks, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from June-August in Zimbabwe and from August-March in South Africa.
  • It lays 4-9 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 21-22 days, with the female taking the day shift and the male taking the night shift.
  • The chicks leave the nest within 1-2 days of hatching and are cared for by both parents and helpers. They are capable of foraging for themselves at approximately three weeks old, taking their first flight at 40-50 days old.


Not threatened, in fact it has benefited from the construction of man-made impoundments.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.