Rare appearance of our water rail

Water rails are genuine oddities amongst British birds. With their pig-like squealing, they are both noisy and reclusive.

Water rails are confined to marshy habitat on the eastern and southern parts of England. They are related to moorhens which are abundant on Petersfield Heath pond. Water rails are less often spotted, because they tend to skulk around the reedbeds searching for snails, small fish and insects. Alf Smallbone was lucky to capture this one, a winter resident of the pond.

The slender legs and toes of the water rail are adapted for walking on floating plants, allowing them to slip quickly through the marshy vegetation without being seen. Cold weather can trigger predatory behaviour, which is out of character with its largely insectivorous lifestyle, and they have been known to attack small birds, such as wrens, when the weather is too cold for insect emergence.


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