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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Common Moorhen -- Gallinula chloropus
(formerly Common Gallinule)

RANGE: Breeds locally in California, central Arizona, and northern New Mexico, and from central Minnesota and southern Wisconsin to Vermont and Massachusetts, south to South America. Winters in eastern North America from South Carolina and the Gulf Coast southward, elsewhere throughout the breeding range, occasionally north to Utah, Minnesota, southern Ontario, and New England.

STATUS: Locally common.

HABITAT: Inhabits freshwater marshes, lakes, ponds, slow-flowing streams and rivers, and nearly any body of water with emergent vegetation such as cattails, bulrushes, reeds, sedges, and burreeds growing in water over one foot deep. Also inhabits rice fields in the South.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Emergent vegetation growing in water 1 to 3 feet deep and areas of open water.

NEST: Builds nests in emergent vegetation 2 to 6 feet high, on a hummock or other clump of vegetation over water that is 1 to 3 feet deep. Locates nest at water level or up to 2 feet above water, concealing it with a canopy of surrounding plants. Occasionally nests in shrubs such as willow or alder. Builds brood platforms or uses muskrat houses or platforms built by coots.

FOOD: Dives, dabbles, or wades while foraging; eats mainly leaves and stems of underwater plants, duckweed, leaves of grasses and herbs, and seeds and berries. Occasionally eats insects, earthworms, slugs, snails, and rarely aquatic vertebrates such as tadpoles or small fishes.

REFERENCES: DeGraff et al. 1980, Fredrickson 1971, Johnsgard 1975a, Krauth 1972, Low and Mansell 1983, Strohmeyer 1977.

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