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Conservation status: Green

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 underparts and black-and-white barred flanks, and a long red bill. Difficult to see in the breeding season, it is relatively easier to find in winter, when it is also more numerous and widespread. Although usually secretive they can become confiding but are still far more often heard than seen.



Latin name

Rallus aquaticus


Rails (Rallidae)

Where to see them

Widely but thinly distributed as breeding birds across the UK, but absent from upland areas. Most abundant in Eastern England and suitable habitat along the south coast.

When to see them

All year round, although numbers are higher in winter when many birds arrive from continental Europe.

What they eat

Omnivorous - mainly small fish, snails and insects.


EuropeUK breeding*UK wintering*UK passage*
-1,100 territories--




Patrik Aberg, Xeno-canto