Water Rail

Rallus aquaticus


A small relative of the moorhen and coot and about the same size as a redshank, water rails live in reedbeds and freshwater wetlands where they feed on invertebrates and small fish. Secretive and rarely seen they are more often heard calling - sounding like a piglet squealing, they are unmistakeable. Between 700 and 1,400 pairs nest in Britain.

How to identify

Water rails are mainly grey, with black and brown streaked upperparts and black and white barring on the flanks. They have a long, red bill and pale pink legs.

Where to find it

Widespread, but absent from the uplands. Most common in Eastern England and along the south coast.

When to find it

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

How can people help

Although water rails are not currently declining their reedbed and wetland homes are under threat from development, drainage and pollution. The Wildlife Trusts manage many wetland nature reserves for the benefit of the wildlife they support. You can help by supporting your local Trust and becoming a member; you'll find out about exciting wildlife happenings, events on your doorstep and volunteering opportunities and be helping local wildlife along the way.

Species information

Common name
Water Rail
Latin name
Rallus aquaticus
Wading birds
Length: 27-29cm Wingspan: 42cm Weight: 110-140g
Conservation status