White-breasted Waterhen – feeding behaviour

On 12th November 2013, Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS observed the feeding behaviour of the White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus phoenicurus) at the Malim Nawar Wetlands in Perak, Malaysia

According to Amar, “Although common, the diet of the White-breasted Waterhen could do with more observation. Their diet is large and varied, comprising many insects, earthworms, some molluscs, grass seeds, roots/shoots of some plants, etc.

There was an adult and a chick. The latter was feeding independently, picking off small insects off low lying bushes (above left) as well as grass and sedge seeds (above right, possibly Pycreus polystachyos (previously Cyperus polystachyos) (below left: close-up of the chick).

“The adult became concerned with my observation and assumed this ‘rigid’ posture (above right) and, with the beak closed, uttered a series of sharp calls (sorry missed recording them),” wrote Amar. “This rapidly produced the other adult with another chick in tow. I backed off and they became more settled, and continued feeding as family.”

Over in Singapore, Andy Dinesh documented a video of an adult White-breasted Waterhen leading three chicks foraging grass seeds at Lorong Halus in December 2013 (below).

“The parent bird went about picking grass seeds for the chicks which were obviously in a somewhat vertically challenged state,” wrote Andy in his website LINK. Two of the chicks seemed to be more dependent of the parent and rarely strayed more than a half a metre from it. The third was however more independent and did not seem to mind being away from the protective wings of the parent bird. The parent bird extended back its wings as if to provide shelter for its brood even though the chicks seemed a little big to all fit under the umbrella at the same time.”

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS & Andy Dinesh
January 2014

Follow YC Wee:

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

6 Responses

  1. Jeewan prakash Tripathi

    Urbanisation is disturbing the natural growth of white breast waterhen.

  2. Lee Chiu San

    Urbanisation is badly affecting the White Breasted Waterhen! Having had several families of them grow up in my garden during the past six years, and watching the population continue to decline, I will inflict an article on the visitors to this website soon.

  3. dylan dennis

    i found a lost white breasted waterhen chick on my backyard. what should i feed it?

  4. Lee Chiu San

    The white-breasted waterhen chicks that their parents bring to my garden feed on the chicken feed that I put out. They also eat cut-up meal worms.
    You can buy chicken feed and meal worms from the cluster of bird shops at Serangoon North Avenue 1. For very young birds it may help to moisten the chicken feed slightly so that it is softer.
    Always cut off and discard the heads when feeding meal worms to baby birds. Adult birds know how to bash the worms to ensure that they are well and truly dead before swallowing. Baby birds do not know how to do this, and may swallow the worms live. They will then try to chew their way out of the birds, which will die.
    This is not an old wives’ tale. This warning has been repeated in many pet publications. I ignored it once, and lost a baby shama. Because the bird was valuable, I had a qualified veterinarian perform an autopsy. It was confirmed that the shama died because the meal worms that it had been fed tried to chew their way out.
    When the waterhen grows up, you will find that it will happily take a varied diet, including cooked rice and bananas.

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.