Water rail

Water Rail

©Derek Moore

Water rail

Scientific name: Rallus aquaticus
From grunts and groans, to 'purring' and 'piglet squealing', the water rail is more often heard than it is seen! This shy bird lives in reedbeds and wetlands, hiding among the vegetation.

Species information


Length: 27-29cm
Wingspan: 42cm
Weight: 110-140g
Average lifespan: est. 5-8 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Green under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2021).

When to see

January to December


A small relative of the moorhen and coot and about the same size as a redshank, the water rail lives in reedbeds and freshwater wetlands where it feeds on invertebrates and small fish. Secretive and rarely seen, Water rails are more often heard calling; making a sound like a piglet squealing, they are unmistakeable. Around 1,100 pairs nest in in the UK.

How to identify

The water rail has a grey body, with black and brown streaked upperparts and black and white barring on the flanks. It has a long, red bill and pale pink legs.


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

Did you know?

Water rails are not often seen in flight as they prefer to migrate under the cover of darkness.

The Wildlife Trusts manage many wetland and coastal nature reserves for the benefit of the wildlife they support.


Water Rail by Russell Savory