Sungei Buloh, White-breasted Waterhens can be seen stepping on lotus leaves
searching for titbits. But inevitably, the leaf they are on slowly sinks.
They then step off to the next leaf. Although they are associated with water
and do swim, they are not particularly good swimmers.
Ruak-Ruak, Uwak-Uwak, Ayam-Ayam (Malay)
White-breasted Waterhens are the most common of the Rail family in
Singapore, often heard before they are seen. Their loud quarrelsome
calls sound like their Malay name, Ruak Ruak. They are more
vocal at dawn and dusk.
Waterhens eat mainly seeds, insects and small fish. They also nibble
on worms and small snails; and snack on shoots and roots of marsh
plants. They forage on the ground, pecking at titbits in chicken-like
movements, hence their other Malay name: Ayam Ayam. Their enormous
feet, constantly flicking tails and inquisitive nature make them very
amusing birds to observe.
They also often forage above ground, in low bushes and small trees,
but their long toes make them rather clumsy among the branches. Their
slender body allows them to quickly and quietly slip through the undergrowth.
and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
features: Large (33cm); upperparts black; white
face, belly; chestnut flanks and undertail coverts;
bill green or yellow, red at the base; legs yellowish
green. Genders look alike.
Dirtier looking, overall grey-brown; upperparts browner;
white replaced by dark grey; bill grey.
Call: Described as a dawn
chorus lasting several minutes of frog-like croaking and
grunting followed by regular u-wak. Also a soft,
hollow hoop repeated monotonously; alarm call is
a high-pitched hik.
In flight: Flies with legs
Similar birds: Common
Moorhen: their juveniles look similar. But the Common
Moorhen's has a white under tail covert while the White-breasted
Waterhen's is cinnamon.
Status in Singapore: Very
common resident throughout the island, including North
and South offshore islands.
World distribution: Resident
and common in India through southern China, Southeast
Asia to the Philippines and Bali.
Classification: Family Rallidae
(Rails). World 142 species, Singapore 11 species.
White-breasted Waterhens forage alone or in pairs. They are active during
the day. When alarmed, may fly or run into dense undergrowth, dashing in
with their heads down. They roost in low bushes and trees at night.
4-9 eggs are laid. The
eggs are dull brownish-white/grey with reddish brown spots and marks. Both
parents incubate (20 days). The chicks are black and fluffy and leave the
nest soon after hatching. Both parents care for them, and they may be seen
running alongside the parents.
White-breasted Waterhens breed throughout the year. They nest amongst
reeds, tall grass or dense undergrowth in both wet and dry habitats.
Made about 1-2m above ground, the nest is a shallow cup-shaped pad
of twigs, creeper stems or leaves. Or made out of bent over or interlaced
tall grass stems topped with a thin lining of grass or weedy materials.
Sometimes, it is roofed by surrounding plants.
Waterhens prefer habitats with dense undergrowth near water both brackish
and freshwater. They are quite common in mangroves, marshes, reedbeds
to grasslands and cultivated areas (ricefields, orchards, gardens,
parks). They often "commute" between suitable habitats by
using man-made water channels.
Migration: Some White-breasted
Waterhens that breed in the north may migrate south and mix with local
residents. Northern birds tend to be larger.
Status and threats: White-breasted
Waterhens have adapted well to human activity and are not endangered.
However, they are sometimes still hunted as food, and occasionally
get run over by cars.
cheeky bird even forages inside the Park's dustbins!
- Morten Strange,
"A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including
Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000
(p. 97: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
- Morten Strange,
"Tropical Birds of Malaysia and Singapore", Periplus,
2000 (p. 16: habits, habitat, photo).
- David R Wells,
"The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)",
Academic Press, 1999 (p. 198-199: identification, distribution map,
habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
- Morten Strange,
"Birds of Southeast Asia: A photographic guide to the birds
of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia",
New Holland, 1998 (p. 23: photo, facts).
- Lim Kim Seng and
Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds
of Singapore", Sun Tree., 1997 (p. 50: identification, status
in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
- W H Davison and
Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular
Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland, 1995 (p. 29: identification,
status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
- Morten Strange
and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the
Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing,
1993 (p. 78: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
- Clive Briffett,
"A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science
Centre,1992 (p. 56: habit, habitat).
- Christopher Hails,
"Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times
Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 64-65: habits, description, status
in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
- Lim Kim Seng,
"Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore",
Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay
- M W F Tweedie,
"Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula", Longman,1970
(p. 7: description, distribution, habits, habitat, drawing).
- G C Madoc, "An
Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947
(p. 26-27: description, habits, habitat).
- Sir John A S Bucknill
and E N Chasen, "Birds of Singapore and South-East Asia",
Tynron Press, 1927, edition 1990 (p. 70-72: identification, status in
Singapore, distribution, field notes on habits, drawings).
of the Birds of the World: Vol 3: Hoatzin to Auks", Lynx Edicions,
1996 (p. 182: identification, distribution map, habits, habitat, migration,