Saturday, January 3, 2015

Watercock

(40 cm.) Male: large; black  plumage; red frontal plate Female: brown with narrow bars on underparts.

Although often very common, rails, like the Watercock, are seldom seen as they frequent habitats that are rarely visited by the average person. Even birdwatchers who seek out these birds in their swampy habitats have a tough time glimpsing one. Most members of the rail family, “Rallidae”, are shy, skulking creatures that avoid any human contact if possible. Gallinules and coots are exceptions as they will often be seen swimming in open water in plain view.

The Watercock is one of the shy rails, and its often nocturnal way of life further complicates the chances of ever seeing one. Also, unlike many other bird species that will fly away when surprised by a passing human, rails will instead quietly run into dense vegetation never revealing their presence. On occasion, this bird will venture into rice fields to feed, and it is at these times that a few fortunate people may see it.

The Watercock is found throughout most of Asia from India and Pakistan in the west to Japan in the east, and south as far as Indonesia.  Throughout most of its range, it is a non-migratory, resident bird; however, in China it is a summer breeding season visitor, which can be found in the eastern half of the country from Sichuan along the south coast to Hainan and Taiwan and as far north as Liaoning Province.

This bird breeds in the swamps throughout its range where it can find ample tall vegetation in which to hide while it forages for food. It feeds by probing mud and shallow water for insects and small fish. It will also forage on the ground in search of grain and seeds at other times. The body of the Watercock is laterally flattened to allow it to pass easily among the reeds of its swampy home.

The female Watercock will choose a dry patch of ground among swamp vegetation to lay her eggs. A typical clutch is 3-6 eggs. Watercock chicks are entirely black, as with all other rail species.

Although Watercock sightings are rare and difficult to achieve, hearing these birds is not a difficult task at all. This bird is extremely noisy, especially during the summer breeding season when its deep, booming calls can be heard emanating from its swampy domain.




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