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A photo of a Dusky Moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa)
Dusky Moorhen

Dusky Moorhen

Gallinula tenebrosa

The dusky moorhen, Gallinula tenebrosa, presents itself as a medium-sized bird, cloaked in dark grey-black plumage with a browner hue adorning its upper parts. A distinctive red frontal shield and a yellow-tipped red bill grace its visage, akin to its Eurasian relative. However, it lacks the white flank line of the common moorhen and sports orange-yellow legs rather than yellow. The Australian subspecies stands out as larger and paler compared to its counterparts.

Identification Tips

Adults of this species can be identified by their dark grey-black coloration, red frontal shield, and yellow-tipped red bill. Unlike the common moorhen, they do not exhibit a white flank line. The legs are orange-yellow, providing a useful visual cue for differentiation. During non-breeding seasons, the frontal shield may appear duller, particularly in females and young males, but regains its vibrancy during the breeding season.

Habitat

The dusky moorhen favors wetland habitats, showing a preference for freshwater marshes and swamps. They are seldom found far from these areas, except when foraging in nearby vegetation. These birds require open water with some form of cover, such as grass, reeds, or other vegetation.

Distribution

This species has a broad range, occurring in India, Australia, New Guinea, Borneo, and Indonesia. In Australia, they are widespread across the eastern states and parts of Tasmania and South Australia. They are also known to inhabit urban parks and botanical gardens within their range.

Behaviour

The dusky moorhen is a diurnal bird, roosting alone or in groups depending on its breeding status. They construct roosts in reeds or on branches over water. The species is known for frequently flicking its white and black tail, which may serve as a signal of alertness or social status. They are generally sedentary, though young birds may disperse seasonally.

Song & Calls

The dusky moorhen's territorial call is a loud "kurk" or "krik," which can carry over two kilometers. Alarm calls consist of short, sharp squawks and squeaks. During courtship, both sexes emit a soft mewing or "kook" noise, and adults may hiss when their eggs are disturbed. Chicks produce a shrill piping noise when begging or separated from adults.

Breeding

Breeding season varies by region, with southern populations breeding from August to January and northern populations from January to June. The dusky moorhen constructs a bulky nest at the water's edge and lays 5–11 matte whitish eggs adorned with red-brown dots. The species is territorial during breeding but gregarious at other times.

Similar Species

The dusky moorhen is often confused with the purple swamphen and the Eurasian coot due to overlapping distributions and similar appearances. However, it can be distinguished by the absence of a white flank line and the color of its legs.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the dusky moorhen includes seeds, shrub and grass tips, algae, fruits, molluscs, and other invertebrates. They are also known to consume carrion and bread. Chicks are initially fed on annelid worms and molluscs, with plant matter gradually introduced as they mature.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies the dusky moorhen as Least Concern, indicating a stable population without significant threats to its survival at present.

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