Against The Odds

Posted by Helen Scott Taylor | 10:38 AM | , , , , | 2 comments »

At the bottom of our garden, unfortunately don’t have fairies. What we do have is a decent sized pond boasting a small island in the center, ideal for breeding water birds.

For a few years we’ve shared the garden with a family of Moorhens that nest on the island in the spring. The Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) is black with a white tail and red bill.

In mid April, my husband laid a ladder between the bank and the island, then crawled across to check out the nest. Seven smooth, glossy grayish-white eggs lay nestled in the twiggy nest among the iris stems on the edge of the island.

Incubation is between 19-22 days. We watched eagerly for the first signs of the young to hatch and venture out of the nest. Mid-May arrived with no sign of the chicks, so once again Hubby deployed the ladder and checked the island. He returned with a long face to report all seven eggs had been squashed in the nest by something, and he could see the half-developed babies dead in the mess.

We thought the adult birds might give up their breeding efforts for this year, but they built another nest and started again. We were afraid whatever attacked the nest first time around might strike again, but on June 16th Mom and Dad Moorhen appeared on the pond with seven black, fluffy chicks in tow.

Moorhens feed on water and land utilizing a mixed diet of leaves, seeds, berries, worms, snails and fish. Over the next month we enjoyed watching the chicks grow and regularly saw them on forays across the lawn in search of food. By the end of June, the chicks were bigger and stronger, but when the parents brought them out to feed, there were only three.

At this point in November, the Moorhen parents are still resident in the garden. Unfortunately, there is now only one youngster left. Sadly, the Moorhen parents laid fourteen eggs in total and raised one chick to maturity.

We can’t say for sure what happened to the young that dissapeared. Our garden is regularly visited by Badgers and Foxes, and we know there are Otters and Mink in the area. Any of these might have taken the small Moorhens.

No doubt, with the incredible persistence of all wild creatures, they will build a new nest next spring and try to raise another family—against the odds.


  1. Beth Trissel // November 24, 2007 at 8:16 AM  

    Great story, Helen. I love feathered fowl of all kinds. We have a pond on our farm and many varities of migrating ducks vist us. Resident mallards are ever here and the barn yard geese. Canadian geese are here now. Sometimes we have the unusual visitors, snow geese, a pink flamingo, and once, an entire flock of white swans settled in for a snowy day.

  2. Mary Marvella // November 24, 2007 at 9:48 PM  

    Funny how we can become attached to animals who wander into our paths. We can learn a lot from birds.