We have two resident Moorhens, who have been there each time we have visited the pond this year. We have never seen them fly, they are there regardless of the times we go (night-time, early morning etc), they have nested and reared their young and are basically a permanent fixture at our pond.
Moorhens are by nature very timid, shy birds, and yet, much like the Mallards, things tend to change around the time of breeding and rearing their young. Here is their story, told by themselves, as it unfolds over the year:
We managed to get just one photo of a Moorhen, fleeing the scene:
They were much more present during April and we managed to get many photos in and out of the water:
It was during May we spotted the first sign that our pair of Moorhens were nesting. Here’s the first sighting of the beginnings of a nest. Apparently Moorhens start and stop making their nest, sometimes as early as February onwards, until breeding season is in full swing. Then they work furiously to get it completed in time for the eggs:
Shortly after, the birds began to sit on eggs, working closely together. One bird always remained on the nest, whilst the other went back and forth for food and nest reinforcements:
By June we were celebrating the arrival of some Moorhen chicks:
Although a normal clutch size for Moorhens is said to be eight eggs, ours seemed only to hatch three. It was around this time we saw a distinct change in the personality of the Moorhens. Until now, they had been very timid. If we were one side of the pond, they would immediately swim to the other side. If we quietly made our way around they would change direction, always swimming away from us. Once their chicks were born, it was a whole different matter, as you will see from the photos, taken about one meter away from the birds themselves:
It was also during June that we did a comparison pond study with a nearby, larger pond. Here there were many, many Moorhen chicks, all at different stages in their development:
During July we saw a huge change in the Moorhen chicks. Here they are at the beginning of the month, still very close to their mummy or daddy:
And here they are towards the end of the month. They have lost their fluff and changed from an almost black to a pale brown and they are beginning to get the start of their striking beak, although at this stage it is still only a orangy colour rather than bright red and yellow:
They continued to grow big and strong throughout August:
They almost don’t look like they belong to the Moorhen family anymore.
It was also during August we had a surprise when one of the adult Moorhens was spotted with another chick, much, much younger than its older siblings:
Moorhens are known to have clutches of eight or so eggs and are a bit hit and miss (apparently) about sitting on them continuously, which means a staggered hatching usually occurs, with the last to hatch usually the runt. However it had been two months since the first hatchlings were swimming about and an eight week difference seemed a bit long for the same clutch of eggs. Who knows? Not I.
During September we were away for almost three weeks so missed a few weeks of pond study. The chicks were still there at the end, growing into near adults now. The three of them were together most of the time and were independent from their parents:
In October the older chicks were still thriving:
And their younger sibling seemed to also be doing well under the close attention of both his mother and father:
Alas, this was the last time we were to see any of the chicks. Even their parents disappeared for a time.
November brought some unwelcome changes to our little pond, in the form of the local council. They thought they would do some improvement, and whilst in theory, it all sounded good, the reality has been the opposite. From the time they arrived we had no more sightings of the Moorhen chicks, or their parents, or indeed any other water bird (apart from some gulls):
They left around the beginning of December, having drained to pond, built up the banks and scared off all our feathered friends:
On our first visit back in January we were relieved to find our resident pair of Moorhens swimming about, just as normal:
And they were there each time we went in January:
But, it seems, the baby chicks (who would have reached full adulthood by now), were nowhere to be seen. It was very easy to blame the works on their disappearance, but that may not have been the case. In our research about the Moorhens we found that if the juvenile birds live through winter and the resident adult pair are still alive, this pair will oust their grown chicks out of the pond to find their own territories elsewhere. So, you see, the lack of maturing chicks may well have been down to nature simply doing its business, rather than the interference of men.
Then in February we spotted something rather special and exciting:
It was the Moorhens and they had begun their yearly process of making a new nest, in exactly the same place as they had the year before. And it made us all smile, and realise there is little to bring down the sheer force of nature. It will do what it is meant to do regardless of any human effort to alter things. There is something really quite wonderful about being part of this world which continues on its axis, bringing new seasons and new life as each year passes.
We are so blessed to be alive and to be a small part of it all.