Friday, 18 May 2012

Water chickens - their struggle

Our resident pair of moorhens [gallinula chloropus] gallinules poules d'eau , Pinknose and her mate, have been industriously nest-building for their second year. Last year they raised two offspring, and in winter all four regularly visited the base of our cherry tree to clear up under the feeders. We blogged about them here in December last year.

The youngsters have now been driven off, in the same way that Pinknose was driven away by her parents from their territory further up the millstream two years ago. In the millstream immediately outside our kitchen window is a patch of yellow Flag Iris [iris pseudacorus] l'iris faux-acore. The patch has been expanding slowly over the years. In winter it is nothing but a patch of blackened stumps, then at the end of February shoots began to appear. Now the green spears are tall enough to provide cover for a moorhen nest, which is built from twigs and scraps of vegetation.


According to the books (and as we observed) the male does most of the fetching and carrying, passing pieces to the female who does most of the building.

Male with a branch
 He is readily distinguished from her by the white tail coverts (the feathers under and to either side of the black tail) which are fanned out for display, both aggressively and in courtship. In the case of the male, the tail coverts are permanently spread partially, in preparation to confront any of the other moorhens along our stretch. There is a visible white strip of at least a centimetre on either side of his tail, whereas the female shows only a white line or nothing at all. His bright red frontal plate is also broader, squarer and lumpier than his mate's.

Male on left: Female on right.


They communicate in gentle chucks and clucks late into the night. One morning he brought in a particularly large piece of vegetation. She clucked at him and swam away. "OK, you brought it, you fit it"!

On the morning of 29th April a single brown-splashed white egg, almost round, appeared in the nest. They both brooded it intermittently, the male being somewhat clumsy with it and nearly kicking it into the water. They continued to visit the feeder area together. Until...

During the afternoon and evening of 29th April, 2.1 centimetres (almost an inch) of rain fell. By the morning of 1st May, the stream had risen by over a foot and the nest was awash. The egg was gone.


The waterlogged nest site.


The couple stoically built higher. The following day, the water level had fallen again, the nest platform was well clear of the water, and there was another egg! A couple of days later there were two eggs, the parents still brooding intermittently.

The last time we got the opportunity to see the eggs, there were four of them. Both Pinknose and her mate are now brooding solidly, meanwhile keeping a wary red-rimmed eye on us as we look down from the bedroom. They have bent over the iris leaves around the nest and interlaced them, creating a neat bower which keeps a little of the rain off. The water level remains high, though when it drops the birds have a bit of a scramble to reach their nest platform. The iris started to flower today, immediately above the nest. Let's hope it brings them luck!

The 'second' egg
Pinknose in the bower....
And Mr. Pinknose taking his turn.

1 comment:

Jim and Pauline said...

Like this - ah survival!