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Species Guide
A photo of a Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)
Water Rail

Water Rail

Rallus aquaticus

The Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) is a secretive bird of the rail family, inhabiting well-vegetated wetlands across Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The adult measures 23–28 cm in length, with a wingspan of 38–45 cm. It possesses a laterally compressed body, aiding its movement through dense reed beds. The plumage is primarily brown with blue-grey underparts and distinctive black barring on the flanks. It has long toes, a short tail, and a long reddish bill. Immature birds resemble adults but have buff replacing the blue-grey. Downy chicks are black, a common trait among rails.

Identification Tips

The Water Rail can be identified by its blue-grey underparts, black barring on the flanks, and a long reddish bill that is slightly longer than the head and gently curves downwards. The white undertail is a key distinguishing feature. Males and females are similar in appearance, though males are slightly larger with more pronounced black undertail streaks.


This species thrives in reed beds and marshy sites with tall, dense vegetation, often building nests just above the water level. It prefers habitats with a mix of water, mud, and a rich diversity of invertebrates.


The Water Rail has a broad range, breeding from Iceland and Ireland to North Africa and western China. Northern and eastern populations are migratory, while those in warmer regions tend to be permanent residents.


Water Rails are territorial and exhibit aggressive defense of their feeding areas in winter. They are adept at moving through dense vegetation and can swim and fly when necessary, though they are generally elusive and prefer to remain hidden.

Song & Calls

The species is known for its "sharming" call, a series of grunts followed by a high-pitched squeal. It also has a courtship song, flight call, and various other vocalizations used for communication within pairs and with chicks.


Water Rails are monogamous and territorial during the breeding season. They typically raise two broods per year, with the female playing a major role in incubation. The precocial chicks are independent after 20–30 days.

Similar Species

The Water Rail can be confused with the slaty-breasted rail or the spotted crake, but can be distinguished by its white undertail and red bill.

Diet and Feeding

An omnivorous bird, the Water Rail feeds on invertebrates, small vertebrates, and plant material. It is an opportunistic forager, adapting its diet seasonally.

Conservation status

Despite local declines due to habitat loss and predation, the Water Rail is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, thanks to its large population and extensive range.

Water Rail Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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Water Rail Fun Facts

Did you know?
The Water Rail call has been likened to the sound of a squeling pig.

Water Rails on Birda


More Rails, Crakes & Coots

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