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Moorhens are about 13 inches (33 cm) long with the sexes just about indistinguishable. They are in the same family as coots, and their nervous behaviour has led them to being called 'Skitty Coots' in some areas. The are not 'moor' birds, the name being a corruption of 'merehen'.
Unlike ducks, both parents incubate typically 8 eggs and feed the young on insects etc. which they mostly find by picking through water weeds. Incubation may start with the first egg, with the young hatching over a period of 2 or 3 days. Usually 2 or 3 hatch first, and go off with one adult, and the rest follow and stick with the other. As the young mature their diet expands to include vegetation, insects, worms and the waste vegetables we put out for them.
They have multiple broods each year, managing as many as three on a good year. They are not very good at picking fox-proof nest sites (like our islands) and make endless attempts as they lose clutches of eggs.
Second and subsequent broods are often fed and guarded by adolescent members of earlier broods that remain near the nesting site. Apparently this is the only bird in the UK that does this. We think the resident male chases off his male offspring as soon as they are old enough to look after themselves - certainly he always sees off about half of them.
This picture shows a moment from an hour long dispute between birds over the nesting rights on the island of our main pond. We understand that for moorhens the male does most of the nest sitting, while the female defends the site, so this is probably two of the gentler sex scrapping away. Their partners occasionally scrapped between themselves, but mainly watched! Though timid by nature, the breeding season brings on an aggressive nature towards both member of the own species as well as anything that threatens the nest or their young.
Elsewhere on this site you will find most of the photographs of the night-time world, and a description of the automatic equipment that takes them. Moorhen are not nocturnal, but particularly in the breeding season they are out until it is very dark, gathering a late supper of worms and other invertebrates for their youngsters. This adult in its prime is glistening with water on its back.
The Moorhen Breeding Cycle