White-breasted waterhen

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The white-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) is a small bird belonging to the crake and rail family, Rallidae. These waterhen species are distributed in Indian subcontinent, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Philippines and Indonesia. Previously these waterhen species were grouped under genus Gallinula.

Taxonomy of White-breasted waterhen

  • Scientific Name: Amaurornis phoenicurus
  • Common Name: White-breasted waterhen
  • French: Râle à poitrine blanche; German: Weißbrust-Kielralle; Spanish: Gallineta pechiblanca;
  • Other names: Gallinula phoenicurus Pennant, 1769; Erythra phoenicura;
  • Family: Rallidae › Gruiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Species author: Pennant, 1769
The four recognized subspecies of Amaurornis phoenicurus are: A. p. leucomelana (S. Müller, 1842), A. p. midnicobarica Abdulali, 1978, A. p. insularis Sharpe, 1894 and A. p. phoenicurus (Pennant, 1769).


The white-breasted waterhen are small birds measuring 25 to 35 cm. The male birds are larger and weigh between 200 to 330 grams whereas the females weigh between 160 to 230 grams. They have dark grey upper parts and flanks with a clean whitish face, breast and belly. Immature birds have only traces of whiteness on the front. Young chicks are black. The lower belly and undertail is cinnamon colored. Their flattened body facilitates their movement through reeds. The waterhen call is a repetitive croaking sound.
Birds of India - white-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)
Indian birds - White-breasted waterhen - Amaurornis phoenicurus
Indian birds - white-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)
Birds of India - White-breasted waterhen - Amaurornis phoenicurus
Birds of India - white-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)
Indian bird - White-breasted waterhen - Amaurornis phoenicurus


These waterhen species inhabit subtropical or tropical mangrove forests, wetlands, marshes, dense swamps, reedbeds and paddy fields.

Feeding habits

The white-breasted waterhen feeds primarily on invertebrates, aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, worms, small frogs and mollusks. It also feeds on seeds, grass, shoots and berries.


The white-breasted waterhen breeding season is usually between June and October, but varies locally. The nest is built on dry ground in marshes. The males are monogamous. The clutch consists of 6-8 eggs. Both the parents take part in incubation and raising of chicks.


These waterhen species are distributed in Indonesia, Philippines, other southeastern Asian countries, Indo-china region, Southeast China, Japan and parts of Indian subcontinent. The subspecies A. p. leucomelana is distributed in Sulawesi, Moluccas and Lesser Sundas. The waterhen subspecies A. p. midnicobarica is distributed in Car Nicobar Islands of India. The subspecies A. p. insularis occurs in Andaman Islands and Nicobar Islands in India.

Movement and migration Patterns

The white-breasted waterhen are resident birds in most of their ranges. They may make local movements for breeding and feeding. Some northern waterhen populations may move southwards for wintering.

Conservation status and concerns

The white-breasted waterhen global population is estimated to be around 10,000 to 100,000 individual birds. However the population trend is uncertain. As waterhen occurrence is in extremely large range, it is considered that they do not approach the thresholds for the Vulnerable species. Destruction, modification and fragmentation of the natural habitats are the main threats for the survival of these waterhen species.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated these white-breasted waterhen species and has listed them as of "Least Concern".

Biological classification of Amaurornis phoenicurus
Species:A. phoenicurus
Binomial name:Amaurornis phoenicurus
Distribution:Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Philippines, Indonesia;
Feeding habits:feeds on invertebrates, aquatic insects, land insects, worms, small frogs, and mollusks; also feeds on seeds, grass, shoots and berries;
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern

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