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Moorhens - Territory & Nesting

First the Territories have to be decided. Mostly a bit of squabbling and chasing decides the issue, but occasionally running battles lasting hours take place. This is one such. Sometimes the partners just hover about as here - at other times the lot join in the melee.

The fights can be vicious and birds gets injured (none with permanent effects so far). We have tried stopping these fights, but the moment you turn your back they are at it again. This is important to them - its about who makes the next generation on this pond.

Nest building is a decidedly stop and start affair. Early on (even in February) rough 'platforms' are built - not really nests, on which the birds spend some time sitting, and on which they sometimes mate. The nests are built of reed stems - a short piece is being transported here with great urgency as you can tell from the bow wave.

Once a nest is needed the rather casual practice is replaced by furious activity that the pair can build a 1 foot (30cm) tower complete with lined nest cup in less than 12 hours.

Here the pair are mating on some flattened reeds. At the peak of breeding this occurs many times a day.

Mating is a very ceremonial affair with much pacing, circling, head dipping, body arching, but no calls audible from a distance. We will add a mating sequence soon, and hope to show the various postures if we can get a suitable sequence.
Eight eggs is a typical clutch size. They are laid one a day. The birds start incubating them intermittently during laying, resulting in a slightly staggered hatching. Normally 2 hatch early and go off with one parent. The others hatch over the next day or so, including the inevitable 'runt' (the last and smallest), and stay with the other parent

The first two chicks have the best chance of survival,  always being big enough to bully their way to the food.

Here is a partially hatched brood. there were 5 eggs (one is hidden). All 8 eggs hatched on this occasion. One hatched two days after the rest and when the adults had stopped incubating it during the day - although a small bird it made it to maturity..

Note the two eggs on the right both have holes in the shell where the birds inside have cracked the shells. The white patch is the inner lining of the eggs where the shell has been flipped back. The enlargement shows it more clearly  

Next ... Raising the Brood