The White-breasted Waterhen is a bold bird that can often be seen foraging openly in both natural and urban habitats such as wetlands, mangroves and even canals.
Figure 2: Call of the White-breasted Waterhen. (Taken from Lena Chow)
The genus name Amaurornis is derived from the Greek words amauros, meaning dusky or brown, and ornis meaning bird, while the specific epithet phoenicurus is in reference to its red tail.
The White-breasted Waterhen is widely distributed and can be found near water bodies, such as the coastal areas, parks and the offshore islands of Singapore (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Distribution of White-breasted Waterhen (indicated by the red landmarks) based on confirmed sightings in Singapore. (Google Maps image made by Sameen with information from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum)
The White-breasted Waterhen is also native to many countries (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Distribution of White-breasted Waterhen across Asia. Range data originally sourced from BirdLife International and NatureServe (2011).
Figure 5: Adult White-breasted Waterhen. (Taken by Mohamad Zahidi Hamid and labelled by Sameen)
The adult White-breasted Waterhen can be identified by its yellow legs, light green bill, red vent and grey plumage all over its body except for the face, throat and abdomen which are white (Figure 5).
Figure 6: White-breasted Waterhen juvenile. (Taken from Lee Chiu San and labelled by Sameen)
Juveniles have plumage which is an intermediate of the adult and chick, and can be distinguished from adults by their smaller size and brown feet (Figure 6).
Figure 7: White-breasted Waterhen chick. (Photo taken by Mohamad Zahidi Hamid and labelled by Sameen)
The White-breasted Waterhen chick can be identified by it black downy feathers, black legs and absence of white colouration at the throat and abdomen (Figure 7).
Figure 8: White-breasted Waterhen exploring a grass patch. (Photo taken by Sameen)
This species has been recorded in a wide range of habitats such as wetlands, mangroves, marshes, coastal areas, grasslands, gardens, parks and canals in Singapore.
Diet and Foraging Behaviour
Figure 9: White-breasted Waterhen feeding on a mollusc. (Photo taken by Dr Amar-Singh HSS)
The White-breasted Waterhen is an omnivorous bird with a varied diet consisting of insects, worms, aquatic snails, molluscs, small fish, grass seeds and water plants.
Figure 10: White-breasted Waterhen foraging for food. (Photo courtesy of Kieron Gabriel Ng)
The White-breasted Waterhen has three main foraging strategies.
Figure 11: Predators of the White-breasted Waterhen. (Top Left: Malayan Water Monitor, Top Right: Domestic Cat, Bottom Left: Crested Goshawk, Bottom Middle: Black-winged Kite feeding on a White-breasted Waterhen chick, Bottom Right: Brahminy Kite. Photos taken by Ria Tan, Sameen, Francis Yap, Francis Yap and Samson Tan respectively. Photos compiled by Sameen)
The White-breasted Waterhen is preyed upon by Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator), Domestic Cat (Felis catus), Crested Goshawk (Accipiter trivirgatus), Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) and Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus).
Figure 12: White-breasted Waterhens fighting. (Photo taken by Pathmanath Samaraweera)
Vigorous calls and fights occur among both the male and female birds in the morning and evening during the breeding season and this eventually leads to pair formation.
Figure 13: White-breasted Waterhen pair in their nest. (Photo taken by Millie Cher)
The breeding pair then look for nesting sites, and occupy and defend their territory early in the breeding season.
The pair then proceed to make nests that are about 5 meters above the ground, and right beside the water body.
Figure 14: White-breasted Waterhen eggs. (Taken by Sourav Mahmud)
Six to seven eggs are laid consecutively in the morning once the nest is completed.
Figure 15: Adult White-breasted Waterhen with chicks. (Photo taken by Dr Amar-Singh HSS)
Once the eggs have hatched, the breeding pair proceeds to make a brood nest (which is larger than the egg nest) within its territory near the water, either on the ground or aboveground.
Taxonomy and Systematics
Figure 16: Description of White-breasted Waterhen by Pennant (1769) that was published in Indian Zoology (1790).
In Figure 16, the White-breasted Waterhen is described as the "Red-Tailed Waterhen (Gallinula phoenicurus)".
The White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) was originally described by Pennant in 1769, using a syntype series consisting of four syntypes.
A hierarchical summary of the taxa within which the White-breasted Waterhen is placed is provided below:
Amaurornis phoenicurus (Pennant, 1769)
The White-breasted Waterhen belongs to the family Rallidae, also known as the "family of wading birds".
Species of birds found in the genus Porzana are often confused with the species found in Amaurornis because the distinctions between these two genera are poorly defined and this often leads to confusion.
To resolve this confusion, a study was conducted in 2012 to determine the phylogenetic relationships among the Asian rails found in Rallidae.
Figure 17: Maximum likelihood tree. Numbers over branches reflect branch support obtained from maximum parsimony/Bayesian/maximum likelihood analyses.
Seventeen species of birds were used for the analyses, namely the Brown Crake (Amaurornis akool), Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla), Ruddy-breasted Crake (Porzana fusca), Band-bellied Crake (Porzana paykullii), Watercock (Gallicrex cinerea), White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus), Slaty-legged Crake (Rallina eurizonoides), Swinhoe’s Crake (Coturnicops exquisitus), Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), Common Coot (Fulica atra), Slaty-breasted Rail (Gallirallus striatus), Okinawa Rail (Gallirallus okinawae), Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) and the outgroups comprising of the Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus), Great Bustard (Otis tarda), Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) and Yellow-legged Buttonquail (Turnix tanki).
Four well supported clades were obtained from the study (Clade 1 to 4 in Figure 17 respectively), and thus the study was able to resolve the phylogenetic relationships amongst the rails studied.
This page was authored by Sameen
Last curated on 7th December 2018