Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)

Water Rail

Gruiformes Rallidae Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)

[order] Gruiformes | [family] Rallidae | [latin] Rallus aquaticus | [UK] Water Rail | [FR] Râle d’eau | [DE] Wasserralle | [ES] Rascón Europeo | [IT] Porciglione comune | [NL] Waterral

Physical charateristics

In 60% of nominate birds, variable number of greater and median upperwing coverts have white bars, black feathers, white markings may also occur on alula (bastard wing), primary covers and even remiges.
Undertail coverts usually white but may have variable amounts of buff, and sometimes show black baring.
female smeller with shorter bill.

wingspan min.: 40 cm wingspan max.: 43 cm
size min.: 23 cm size max.: 26 cm
incubation min.: 19 days incubation max.: 22 days
fledging min.: 20 days fledging max.: 30 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 6  
      eggs max.: 11  


This rail inhabits wetlands in a major part of Eurasia, from Iberia, Iceland and southern Scandinavia to Iran, China and eastern Siberia. The birds of the south and the west of that area are largely sedentary. Those of northern and eastern Europe are migratory and winter in the south-west of the continent. Nearly all populations are adversely affected by the destruction of wetlands, and the species is showing an overall decline

Listen to the sound of Water Rail

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto


Any type of dense riparian and aquatic vegetation at still or slow-moving water.
Breeding habitat includes reedbeds and other emergent vegetation of swamps, marshes and fens.
Mainly lowland, but resident up to 2000 meter.

Foraging habits

Diet many terrestrial and aquatic insects and teir larvae, worms, leeches, molluscs, shrimps and spiders.
Small vertebrates, killed or as carrion, including amphibians, fish, birds and mammals.
Plant foods include shoots, roots, seeds, berries and fruits.


Breeding habits

Seasonal monogamous pair bond, solitary nests, highly territorial while breeding. Both parents build nest and incubate eggs (range 5-16, average 6-11). Two broods normal and egg loss is followed by replacement clutch. Chicks precocial. Initially brooded in and fed in nest, taking food for themselves by five days, fledge 7-8 weeks, breed by one year old.


This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 10,000,000 km². It has a large global population, including an estimated 290,000-730,000 individuals in Europe (BirdLife International in prep.). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. (source Birdlife.org)

Water Rail status Least Concern


Mainly resident in west and south, migratory or partially migratory elsewhere. Present (at least formerly) all year in Iceland (race hibernans), more or less dependent in winter on warm water from volcanic springs. Degree of emigration uncertain, but has been collected Faeroes, mainly in winter; identified as passage migrant to Scottish islands and as winter visitor to Ireland.
Nominate race believed mainly resident in North Sea countries, south-west Europe, Mediterranean basin, Turkey, and southern FSU, but migratory or partially migratory elsewhere in Europe, where continental climate prevails. Small numbers overwinter on west and south coasts of Norway, in south Sweden, Denmark, Germany southwards, and not infrequently in Oder delta (Poland), wherever ice-free water remains. Only exceptional in winter further east. Britain and Ireland receive birds from east to Sweden, Poland, and Czech Republic; migratory elements of continental populations also winter south to Mediterranean (including North Africa), Near East, Black Sea, Caucasus, and Turkmenistan. Thus withdraws south of total breeding range only to limited extent.
Juveniles from early broods can begin dispersing in July, and adults also may move in late summer if their marsh dries out. In especially favourable habitats, passage birds may pause for several weeks, particularly in late summer to early autumn, for wing moult; flightless for c. 3 weeks. True migration begins in August, at peak in September-October, tailing off in November as winter quarters reached. In mild winters, return movement can begin late February, but northward passage mainly March to mid-April, and spring migration virtually ceased by end April.

Distribution map breeding season

Water Rail range map summer


Title Breeding of the Water Rail Rallus aquaticus in Cladium mariscus
Author(s): G.H.J. De Kroon & M.H.J. Mommers
Abstract: We have studied breeding habitats of the Water Rai..[more]..
Source: ORNIS SVECICA 12:69-74, 2002

download full text (pdf)

Title Why is the Water Rail Rallus aquaticus a very scarce breeder
north of 61° N?
Author(s): G.H.J. De Kroon & M.H.J. Mommers
Abstract: Along a transect from just north of Uppsala (c. 60..[more]..
Source: ORNIS SVECICA 13: 47-52, 2003

download full text (pdf)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *