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Secretive moorhens

The black bird known as the moorhen is found throughout most of Europe as well as in North and South America and parts of Asia and Africa.

Malta’s first moorhen nest was found in 1985 in a partially flooded quarry near Kirkop

The moorhen, known in Maltese as gallozz iswed, lives in well-vegetated habitats close to water and, in fact, can be seen all year round at the Għadira and Simar nature reserves.

This species is easily distinguishable from the coot (tiġieġa tal-baħar) which is also found in these two nature reserves. Moorhens are smaller and lighter in colour than coots and their beaks are red with a yellow tip, instead of white.

In some places, moorhens are very secretive and difficult to see but in areas where they are protected, such as in nature reserves, they are less cautious and can be easily spotted. They spend a lot of time swimming in water but can often be seen walking along the water’s edge, especially in the vicinity of dense vegetation.

Malta’s first moorhen nest was found in 1985 in a partially flooded quarry near Kirkop. The quarry was being used as a fruit tree orchard and the owner had installed a gate to prevent people, especially hunters, from going in.

I had visited the quarry after the owner informed me about the breeding moorhens.

Part of the quarry was flooded with rainwater and aquatic vegetation was growing densely around the edges. The moorhens built their nest in a corner of the quarry underneath a tree tobacco plant. The nest, in the shape of a deep plate, was built on a small stone surrounded by water.

When we visited the quarry the eggs had already hatched and the young birds had flown away. Young moorhens are precocious and leave the nest and start feeding on their own a few days after they hatch. We only heard the mother calling her young and saw glimpses of the young ones as they walked in the vegetation.

The nest contained many dragonfly wings, showing that the parents had been busy catching dragonflies to feed them to their young.

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