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White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) 

(Pennant, 1769)

Figure 1: White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus). (Photo courtesy of Kieron Gabriel Ng)


Table of Contents

Introduction

The White-breasted Waterhen is a bold bird that can be often seen foraging openly in both natural and urban habitats such as wetlands, mangroves and even canals.1 It has a loud, distinctive call that can often be heard in the evenings (Figure 2).1 This bird is considered a native species in Singapore and is also found in many different countries.2  According to the IUCN Red List, this species is catagorized as Least Concern (LC).3

Figure 2: Call of the White-breasted Waterhen (Taken from Lena Chow)4



Etymology

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.5



Distribution

Singapore Distribution

Figure 3: Distriburion of White-breasted Waterhen in Singapore (Google Earth Map made by Sameen with information from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum).1

The White-breasted Waterhen is usually found near water bodies, such as the coastal areas, parks and the offshore islands of Singapore (Figure 3).

Global Distribution

Figure 4: Distribution of White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) across Asia. Range data originally sourced from BirdLife International and NatureServe (2011).6

The White-breasted Waterhen is also native to several countries (Figure 4). 3



Description

Adults


Figure 5: Adult White-breasted Waterhen. (Taken by Lin Yangchen)

The adult White-breasted Waterhen can be identified by its yellow legs, light green bill, red vent and grey feathers all over its body except for the face, throat and abdomen which are white (Figure 5).7

Juveniles

Figure 6: White-breasted Waterhen juvenile. (Taken from Lee Chiu San)

Juveniles have plumage which is an intermediate of the adult and chick, and can be distinguished from adults by their size and brown feet (Figure 6).8

Chicks


Figure 7: White-breasted Waterhen chick. (Photo taken by Mohamad Zahidi Hamid)

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).7



Biology

Habitat

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.1

However, this species has been declining in number due to the loss of the habitat caused by urbanization and the removal of water bodies due to the threat of dengue in Singapore.9

Foraging Behaviour

Figure 9: White-breasted Waterhen foraging for food. (Photo courtesy of Kieron Gabriel Ng)

The White-breasted waterhen has three main foraging strategies, and the strategy they use depends on the location of their feeding habitat, size and diet.10 These startegies are foraging and feeding while walking (to capture insects), while wading (to consume mollusks and fish) and while running.10 They maximize foraging after overnight fasting at night by foraging actively before noon, with peak feeding obeserved during early morning.10 After the first bout of feeding, these birds would then hide to avoid conflicts with other birds.10

Breeding

Water is essential for the breeding and rearing of chicks in the White-breasted Waterhen, therefore egg nests and brood nests are found near water bodies.7

Pair Formation

Figure 10: White-breasted Waterhens fighting. (Photo taken by Pathmanath Samaraweera)

Vigorous calls and fights occur among the birds in the morning and evening and this eventually leads to pair formation.7 Once the pairs have formed there is a long courtship period which includes bowing, billing and nibbling displays. Finally, the male mounts the female at the end of the courtship period.7

Egg Nest

Figure 11: 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.7 The pair then proceed to make nests and eggs are laid consectively in the morning once the nest is completed.7 The breeding pair is also more aggressive in defending their territory after egg-laying.7 Both parents participate in incubation of the eggs, which can last from between 19 to 21 days, and all eggs hatch on the same day.7

Brood Nest

Figure 12: Parent 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.7 One parents would roost with the chicks in the brood nest.7



Taxonomy and Systematics

Phylogeny

A hierarchical summary of the taxa within which the White-breasted Waterhen is placed is provided below:3

Animalia
   Chordata
      Aves 
         Gruiformes 
            Rallidae 
               Amaurornis 
                  Amaurornis phoenicurus (Pennant, 1769)

Original Description (Pennant, 1769)

Figure 13: Original description of White-breasted Waterhen (Pennant, 1769), published in Indian Zoology (1790).11 In Figure 13, the White-breasted Waterhen is described as the "Red-Tailed Waterhen (Gallinula phoenicurus)" which is a synonym for Amaurornis phoenicurus.12

Type

The White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) was originally described by Pennant in 1769 and four syntypes can be found in the British Museum in London, under the name "Red-Tailed Waterhen (Gallinula phoenicurus)".13

Phylogenetic Relationships

Figure 14: Maximum likelihood tree. Numbers over branches reflect branch support obtained from maximum parsimony/Bayesian/maximum likelihood analyses.14

Mitochondrial DNA sequences of Cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) and cytochrome b (CYTB) sequences were aligned using Clustal W (with default options), Maximum Parsimony analysis and Bayesian anaylsis and and the tree in Figure 14 was obtained.14 Four well supported clades are obtained and these results show that the genus Amaurornis is polyphyletic, and Amaurornis phoenicurus is closely related to Gallicrex cinerea.14



References

Footnotes
Ref Notes
1 Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, 2018. Amaurornis phoenicurus (Pennant, 1769). Available at:http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/organisms/details/474 Accessed on 11 November 2018. [ a b c d ]
2  Singapore Birds Project, n.d. White-breasted Waterhen. Available at: https://singaporebirds.com/species/white-breasted-waterhen/ Accessed on 11 November 2018.
3  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (2018). White-breasted Waterhen. Available at: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22692640/95217833#geographic-range Accessed 11 November 2018. [ a b c ]
4 Chow, L. (2011). Call of the White-breasted Waterhen – Bird Ecology Study Group. Bird Ecology Study Group. Available at: http://www.besgroup.org/2011/03/22/call-of-the-white-breasted-waterhen/ Accessed 21 November 2018.
5 Jobling, J. (2010). Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: A & C Black, p.43.
6 BirdLife International and NatureServe (2011). White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus). Xeno-canto.org. Available at: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Amaurornis-phoenicurus Accessed 11 November 2018.
7 Gopakumar, P. S. and Kaimal, P. P. (2008). Loss of Wetland breeding habitats and population decline of White-breasted Waterhen, Amaurornis Phoenicurus Phoenicurus (Pennent)-A Case Study. Proceedings of Taal 2007: The 12th World Lake Conference, pp.529-536. [ a b c d e f g h i j k ]
8 Lee, C. S. (2013). In-between White-breasted waterhen – Bird Ecology Study Group. Besgroup.org Available at: http://www.besgroup.org/2013/03/22/in-between-white-breasted-waterhen/ Accessed 21 November 2018.
9 Lee, C. S. (2017). White-breasted Waterhens: What they eat, where they live and when they were eaten! – Bird Ecology Study Group. Besgroup.org. Available at: http://www.besgroup.org/2017/06/13/white-breasted-waterhens-what-they-eat-where-they-live-and-when-they-were-eaten/ Accessed 21 November 2018.
10 Akhtar, S., Kabir, M. M., Begum, S. and Hasan, M. K. (2015). Activity pattern of white-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) at Jahangirnagar university campus, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bangladesh Journal of Zoology, 41(2), p.189. [ a b c d ]
11 Rosie Curran (2016). Indian zoology: Pennant, Thomas, 1726-1798. n 50009492. Internet Archive. Available at: https://archive.org/details/b28767214/page/n89  Accessed 11 November 2018.
12 Encyclopedia of Life. (n.d.). White-breasted Water Hen - Amaurornis phoenicurus - Synonyms - Encyclopedia of Life. Available at: http://eol.org/pages/915925/names/synonyms Accessed 11 November 2018.
13 Gray, G. (1844). List of the specimens of birds in the collection of the British Museum. 3rd ed. London: Printed by the order of the Trustees, p.123.
14 Ruan, L., Wang, Y., Hu, J. and Ouyang, Y. (2012). Polyphyletic Origin of the Genus Amaurornis Inferred from Molecular Phylogenetic Analysis of Rails. Biochemical Genetics, 50(11-12), pp.959-966. [ a b c ]

This page was authored by Sameen
Last curated on 15th November 2018

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