There are at least twenty-two birds in the southern African region that have the adjective “Common” in their name, and some of them are not common (in the sense of plentiful) at all. The Common moorhen, though, is. It is found throughout the region, save for the dry central Kalahari, occurring on most bodies of fresh water with appropriate vegetation. Outside the region they have quite an extensive worldwide distribution, although they are absent from Australia.
The male and female Common moorhen are alike in plumage colouration and the male is a little larger than the female, with a length of approximately 34 cm. They are predominantly black, with an olive-brown rump; white flank stripe and red frontal shield. The bill is red with a yellow tip; eyes are red; legs and feet are yellow.
Generally found in small groups, or as solitary birds, they forage while swimming, walking on floating vegetation or on land. They feed on plants and berries as well as on insects, tadpoles and the like. Common moorhens utter a range of clucking sounds, and call in a high-pitched “krrrik”.
Common moorhens are monogamous and they build a shallow bowl nest of plant material, which is usually well concealed in the reeds or other vegetation near the water’s edge. The female lays a clutch of between four and eight eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 21 days.
The scientific binomial for the Common moorhen is Gallinula chloropus; Gallinula from the Latin for “a small hen”; and chloropus from the Latin for a “green foot”. Thus the name describes a little hen with green feet; a little odd as its feet are more yellow than green. It does have a relative, though, the Lesser moorhen that really does have green(ish) feet.