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.
White-breasted Water hens 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 tidbits 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
White-breasted Water hens 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.
White-breasted Water hens 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
Breeding: White-breasted Watermen's 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.
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 Water hens prefer habitats with dense undergrowth near
water both brackish and freshwater. They are quite common in mangroves,
marshes, reed beds to grasslands and cultivated areas (rice fields,
orchards, gardens, parks). They often "commute" between suitable
habitats by using man-made water channels.
Status and threats: White-breasted Water hens 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.