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Rails

Water rail at edge of reedbed

Image: Graham Catley

Rails are mostly secretive and elusive rather than shy, living in dense vegetation such as reeds and overgrown pools and communicating with loud calls. 

They have, in a side view, rounded bodies, remarkably narrow end-on, helping them slip easily through reeds. 

Two commoner species in the UK, the moorhen and the coot, are larger and less secretive, living at the water’s edge or swimming on open water. One, the corncrake, lives in much drier habitat, where tall grass replaces similar waterside plants. 

Some are resident, others are migratory in parts of their range, while others (including the corncrake) are regular migrants to Africa.

Coot

All-black and larger than its cousin, the moorhen, it has a distinctive white beak and 'shield' above the beak which earns it the title 'bald'. Its feet have distinctive lobed flaps of skin on the to... More...

Coot

Corncrake

Corncrakes are related to moorhens, coots and rails but differ from most members of the family in that they live on dry land. They are very secretive, spending most of their time hidden in tall vegeta... More...

Corncrake

Moorhen

Moorhens are blackish with a red and yellow beak and long, green legs. Seen closer-up, they have a dark brown back and wings and a more bluish-black belly, with white stripes on the flanks.... More...

Moorhen

Spotted crake

The spotted crake is only the size of a starling. Breeding adults have a brown back with dark streaks, a blue-grey face and an olive-brown breast - all covered with white flecks and spots. The under t... More...

Spotted crake

Water rail

Smaller and distinctly slimmer than the moorhen, the water rail is a fairly common but highly secretive inhabitant of freshwater wetlands. It has chestnut-brown and black upperparts, grey face and un... More...

Water rail