Dusky Moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa)

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This page last updated on 10/02/2017
(Fig. 01)

Picture Notes:  On 08/05 I captured this picture of a Dusky Moorhen tendering her young chick (Fig. 01) on a morning walk at the Las Vegas Clark County Wetlands Preserve. This location is only a few miles from my house on the east side of the Las Vegas valley and runs from the various water treatment plants near the natural beginning of the Las Vegas Wash to where the wash flows under Lake Las Vegas and later into Lake Mead. The park includes 2,900 acres of water, trails, and trees along the Las Vegas Wash. The actual 210 acre Nature Preserve has three to four ponds surrounded by two miles of concrete and graveled secondary walking trails.
Description: The Dusky Moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa) is a member of the rail family (Rallidae). The word gallinule is sometimes used for any member of the rail family but is usually these days reserved for birds that look like moorhens (such as coots, native hens and swamphens).  Like many of its other relatives the dusky moorhen has a short, dagger-like beak, long toes, a face shield and a highly animated tail. Gallinules are fascinating to watch because of their rather engaging behaviour. They live in close-knit families or pairs, and enjoy the company of others of their own kind, unless they threaten their families or food; then they get nasty.

Dusky moorhens are blackish in appearance: their wings with a brownish tinge and their breasts with a greyish tinge. They have a yellow-tipped red beak with a small shield above the beak, protecting the face. This shield is more probably used for communication, mate attraction and acts as a cue for feeding young than any real protection. Its eyes are dark (black-looking). The legs are multicolored: red above the greyish knee and greenish grey below, except when breeding, in which case the lower legs are bright red (as can be seen in the parent birds in the photo). It has long webless toes for manipulating and clambering amongst cumbungi, reeds and other water plants. Younger birds have a dull greyish or reddish bill and are browner (or less black) than the adults. Chicks are black and fluffy and have a red head and beak at first, but lose the red head feathers in a few days.The chicks can swim soon after hatching and follow their devoted parents around until fully fledged.

Their habitat requirements are reeds, rushes, cumbungi or other thick vegetation lining rivers or ponds, which don’t have to be particularly large. They are vegetarians, mainly eating water plants, but will also graze on land near water. Moorhens tolerate the presence of other birds and can be quite gregarious. Dusky moorhens are the third most common wetland bird after grey teal and Eurasian coots.