White-breasted Waterhen – behaviour series

on 20th September 2021

The following series on the different behaviours of a White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus phoenicurus) are based on observations by Dato’ Dr. Amar-Singh HSS made on different days around an urban habitat in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.

Waterhen on a wooden fence.

On 29th April 2020, the above White-breasted Waterhen hopped up on this wooden fence in front of me and allowed close observation and images. It was feeding on insects on the foliage.

Waterhen feeding on insects.

Waterhen foraging in a pond.

On the early morning of 2nd May, a waterhen was seen foraging in the centre of a pond covered (coated) with Lemna minor (Common or Lesser Duckweed). It was sieving through the aquatic plants looking for snail prey, some were tiny as seen in the image below .

Waterhen with snail prey.

Waterhen with nesting material.

On 21st May a waterhen was seen with a nesting material. It’s short tail often flicked when nervous.

Waterhen flicking its short tail.

An older video and DSLR images of a White-breasted Waterhen (Uwak) making less commonly heard calls. Many of us would be familiar with the ‘classical’, calls these birds make – a cacophony of loud, raucous notes that are answered by the mate – often sounding like its local name “uwak-wak-wak-wak”.

Sonogram of waterhen’s call.

The bird also has larger repertoire of other calls. One that I hear infrequently is the one shown in the video and sonogram (above). They are discrete, repetitive calls made every 1.2 seconds (16 calls in 19 seconds) and last 0.2-0.3 of a second. Few authors describe them. Craig Robson (Field Guide to Birds of SE Asia 2002) alludes to them as contact calls and describes them as “pwik”. Bird that made calls in Post 2 seen below.

The waterhen that made the call.

Video recording here:

Edited audio recording here:


Amar-Singh HSS (Dato’ Dr)

Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia

April-May 2020


Equipment: Nikon D500 SLR with Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8G VR IF-ED or Nikon D500 SLR with Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD, handheld with Rode VideoMic Pro Plus Shotgun Microphone



If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

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.

Other posts by YC Wee

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