Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sanibel is home to family of moorehens

Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) Other names: Florida gallinule, pond chicken / Status: FL= stable to slightly declining, IUCN=LC / Life span: to 10 years / Length: 13-14 in. (32-35 cm) / Wingspan: 21-24 in. (54-62 cm) / Weight: 12 oz (0.34 kg) / Nests on islands / Found: IW, MZ. 

This widely distributed member of the rail family ranges from Argentina into southern Canada. Unlike its secretive cousins, the clapper rail and the king rail, the moorhen is not a shy bird. It is easily approached and photographed, often without need of a telephoto lens. 

Using its oversized yellow-green feet, it works its way through cattails and rushes along the edges of lakes and ponds. Lacking webbed feet, the moorhen has a curious swimming stroke, appearing to bob its head with every stroke. A close relative, the purple gallinule, is a beautiful purple version of the moorhen but is seldom seen on Sanibel, preferring the habitat of the Everglades and other wetlands. 

One easy way to identify the moorhen is by its distinctive candy-corn bill, which has a yellow tip and red beak in the shape of a candy corn protruding from its unique red frontal shield. The moorhen is a very vocal bird — hence the nickname pond chicken — making a variety of clucks, screams, squeaks, and pips. 

The moorhen is preyed upon by weasels, raccoons, and bobcats, and its nests are targeted by snakes. Its biggest problem is continued loss of wetlands habitat. It is common in Florida but a species of special concern in several midwestern and northeastern states. 

(Author’s note: There is currently a young family of moorehens located in the Sanibel Garden‚s Preserve not far from the microwave tower. Their were originally six chicks hatched but that number is now down to five, probably due to one of the small alligators that has been seen in the same area. )

By Charlie Sobczak

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