Status: Resident at wetlands throughout Ireland.
Conservation Concern: Amber-listed due to a decline in the breeding population. The European population is considered to be Secure.
Identification: A secretive and skulking species which is more often seen than heard. Can sometimes be seen when it emerges from dense wetland vegetation briefly before disappearing again. A small bird with a rounded rear to its body, which is slender and laterally compressed in order to help it slip through dense vegetation such as reeds. Has a long bill which is red on the adult bird. Legs are long with very long toes which help spread its weight on wet ground. The upperparts are dark brown with black spotting. In the adult the body and 'face' are blue-grey, the flanks and belly are barred black and white and the under-tail coverts (which are easy to see on the cocked tail) are whitish. The juvenile bird is similar to the adult but is whitish underneath (not grey), has a pale bill and a stronger patterning on the head. Has short rounded wings and when flying into cover dangles its legs.
Similar Species: Moorhen
Call: A distinctive call like a pig squealing coming from dense vegetation is a sure sign that a Water Rail is close by.
Diet: Eats both plant and animal matter. Feeds on land or in shallow water, will some times swim and will even, though rarely, dive. Food includes fish, insects, frogs, seeds and roots.
Breeding: Breeds in emergent vegetation such as marshes and reed beds. Most nesting territories recorded in Britain have a number of common elements:- static or slow moving fresh water, often open mud and invariably tall, emergent vegetation. The vegetation is often tall reeds, sedges, reedmace or rush, but they can also be found in damp field corners. Nest is built close to the ground, near or on water, usually in thick vegetation. Widespread in both inland and coastal areas. Ireland has a great abundance of Water Rail, which is no doubt due to our great number of wetlands.
Where to See: A very difficult species to see, remaining in deep cover most of the time. Looking along the edges of reed beds, especially from the cover of a hide, will occasionally yield sightings. Easier to see in the winter, when they are more confiding and numbers are swollen by wintering birds from Europe
Monitored by: Countryside Bird Survey