© Copyright: Images: Jari Peltomäki. Recording: Jan-Erik Bruun. All rights reserved.

Water Rail

Rallus aquaticus

  • Name also: Western Water Rail
  • Family: Rails – Rallidae
  • Appearance: A fairly small, plump rail, with a long, slender, slightly downcurved beak. Looks dark from a distance, but has a bright white vent under tail.
  • Size: Length 23–26 cm, wingspan 38–45 cm, weight 75–190 g, male larger.
  • Nest: Low-sided nest on the ground, about as large as a thrush’s nest, concealed in a tussock of vegetation near shoreline, made of dry leaves of reeds, bulrushes and sedges.
  • Breeding: 6–11 eggs laid in May, incubated by both parents for 19–21 days. Fledglings leave their nest immediately after hatching, learn to find food for themselves within about 5 days, and learn to fly within 42–49 days.
  • Distribution: In reed beds and bulrushes around lakes and sea bays. More common in Southern Finland. Inconspicuous, and presence only usually indicated by distinctive call. Finnish breeding population estimated at 500–800 pairs.
  • Migration: Nocturnal migrant. Autumn migration starts as early as August but may continue until late autumn. Spring migration begins at the end of March or early April. Winters in Western and Southern Europe. Some birds may attempt to spend the winter in Finland.
  • Diet: Invertebrates found in reed beds, wetlands and shallow water.
  • Calls: Has a variety of calls, most commonly a repeated “gip-gip” series of calls ending in a pig-like squeal.

Water Rails are thrush-sized short-tailed rails. Their olive brown backs have black speckles, and their cheeks, throat and chest are dark grey. Their flanks are marked with black and white stripes, and they have bright white patches on their vents. Their long, slender, slightly downcurved beaks are reddish on mature birds (with a black tip and ridge on the upper mandible) but brown on juvenile birds. Juvenile birds also differ in that their underparts lack the dark grey colouring of adults, and are instead paler, with dark stripes on their bellies. Water Rails have reddish brown legs with very long toes. Their irises may be red or reddish brown.

Water Rails spend most of the time concealed in dense waterside vegetation, and are only seldom seen, but more often heard. They are able to move with great agility through wetland vegetation.

Other species from the same family

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