We have been seeing some great views of waterfowl through the ditch cam and Winterbourne stream cam.
There are 3 main species of water fowl that we regularly seen on the nature reserve. These are the moorhen, coot and mallard. Coots and moorhen are not ducks but belong to a group of birds known called Rails. These are quite secretive birds and often avoid people by hiding in the vegetation.
The moorhen has a blue/black body, brown wings and a red and yellow beak. They feed both on land and in water on things like leaves, seeds, worms, snail and small fish (omnivores).
We often see moorhen swimming on the Leighside pond and in the water ditches. They swim along the surface with a characteristic jerky movement. On land, at the first sign of danger, the tail is flicked, flashing the white underside, to warn other birds before heading for the nearest cover. They can be heard calling from their hiding place in the tall vegetation with a loud sudden ‘curruk’. Moorhen have long toes that help them to walk on the soft mud on the water edge. Moorhen male and female look the same and are about 33cm in length.
Moorhen are very territorial in the breeding season and the red frontal face shield is displayed to the opponent during pre-fight challenges. Often fights break out and birds use their feet as weapons and try to grasp their opponent or force them under the water. It is interesting to note that most of the fighting takes place between female moorhens. In the animal kingdom it is usually the males that fight to show who is strongest.
Last year we watched a family of moorhen through ditch cam as the tiny fluffy chicks developed until they eventually look like their parents. We hope that we will see this again later in the year.
Coots are closely related to moorhen but its easy to tell them apart. Firstly the coots have black/grey body and are larger in size (36-38cm). An easy way to identify them is that the coot has a distinctive white beak and 'shield' and the feet have fleshy lobes. Coots seem to prefer the deeper water of the Heart of Reeds.
Coots are quite aggressive to other birds, steaming over and chasing away birds much larger than themselves and fierce territorial fights can break out in the breeding season.
On the nature reserve we often see coots in the Heart of Reeds or in the water ditches, including young coots, so this species probably also nests on the reserve.
The largest of the three waterfowl is the mallard measuring between 50 and 65cm. Mallards are ducks and unlike the moorhen and coot, the males and females are easy to tell apart.
The female is brown in colour. Why do you think she has brown feathers? You might think brown to be a boring colour but it helps the female to remain hidden from predators and camouflaged when sitting on the nest. The males have attractive feathers, especially their glossy green head. These striking feathers are used by the male to attract a mate. In the summer, the male mallard will molt its gaudy feathers which will be replaced by brown feathers similar to the female.
Mallards are dabbling ducks as they feed mainly on the surface rather than diving for food. Mallards have a wide beak ideal for feeding at the surface and powerful webbed feet. Although they do not dive, they might up end, tail in the air, and stretch down beneath the water to grab vegetating in shallow water.
Mallards are strong flyers and often drop in at the reserve and are seen on the Leighside pond, heart of reeds, winterbourne stream and the water ditches. They can land and take off from small ponds because they can launch themselves into the air. Coots and moorhen have to run along the surface of the water before they become airborne and so need more room.
You can view some short video clips of mallard and moorhen that we have seen this year by visiting the school video library in school zone. Type the word Moorhen or Mallard into the search and it will find the clips you want to see.