South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Common Moorhen

Gallinula chloropus

Length: 14 inches Wingspan: 20 to 22 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant (rare)
ID Keys: Red bill with yellow tip and red forehead "shield", dark head and heck, olive-brown upperparts

Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropusThe Common Moorhen is a widely spread bird, found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.  They are often found with their close relative, the American Coot, but are usually more shy and retiring.  They can easily be differentiated from the somewhat similar American Coot by the brilliant red forehead shield and the red bill with yellow tip.  Common Moorhen are generally just casual migrants and visitors to South Dakota, but are more common residents in areas just to the east and south of the state.

Habitat: Prefers freshwater marshes with some open water.   

Diet: Omnivorous, feeding on many aquatic plants, fruits and berries of terrestrial plants, earthworms, tadpoles, insects and insect larvae, snails, and occasionally bird eggs.

Behavior: Uses a variety of methods for foraging.  Will swim on the water's surface, dabbling at the surface, dipping its head below the water, or sometimes by diving beneath the surface.  They also will feed on land, or climb through wetland vegetation in search of food.

Breeding: Generally a non-breeder in South Dakota, although there are scattered records of confirmed breeding.  The nest of a Common Moorhen is a platform of wetland vegetation such as reeds and cattails, placed above shallow water in a wetland, or sometimes on the ground near the shoreline.  The female usually lays between 6 and 12 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed them.  The young usually fledge at around 6 or 7 weeks.

Song: Common Moorhen song

Migration: Summers in scattered locations through the eastern third of the U.S., and locally in the southwestern United States.  Southwestern populations and those in the deep South may not migrate, while most elsewhere winter near the Atlantic coastline.

Similar Species: American Coot, Purple Gallinule

Status: Population and range lower than historical levels due to wetland loss, but still locally common throughout its range.  The IUCN lists the Common Moorhen as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Common Moorhen

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Common Moorhen"

3) Common Moorhen

Photo Information: December 10th, 2012 - Big Cypress National Reserve, Florida - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Common Moorhen photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - Common Moorhen
South Dakota Status: Rare visitor and summer breeder, primarily in the eastern part of the state.