Project summary

47 so far
Birds colour-marked

just started
Sightings received

Year project started

Colour-marks used

Orange leg ring, 3 black characters (letters or numbers) on one leg with BTO metal on other leg


Moorhen are another often overlooked waterbird, often seen on visits to the local duck pond, or catching your eye as they skulk down a ditch edge whilst you’re out for a walk – but what do we actually know about them?

Moorhens can be found throughout Eurasia and some parts of Africa. In the UK, they inhabit a variety of freshwater habitats, including rivers and ponds, but are less common in upland areas. Although they are generally sedentary, some Moorhen in northern Europe may migrate partially or fully in response to cold weather during the winter.

The population of Moorhen in the UK ranges from 210,000 pairs in the summer, to 305,000 birds in the winter. but recent declines have put them on the amber list for the Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC). Despite being a familiar presence in many urban ponds, very few Moorhen are ringed each year across Britain and Ireland, and the number of ringed has been decreasing over the last 20 years (see the graph below). In the past 10 years, an average of 360 moorhens have been ringed per year, totalling 3611 birds. This declining trend could potentially affect the ability to estimate survival rates or track the movements of these birds

Total Moorhen ringed in UK
Annual totals based on BTO Ringing and Nest Recording Report 2021. Check out the full report on the link below.

Aim of the project

Despite being common, widespread, and familiar, the Moorhen is an understudied species in Britain and Ireland. There is limited information available on its movements at local, national, and international levels. While Moorhen are generally considered to be sedentary, previous ringing recoveries have shown that migratory European birds join resident birds in Britain and Ireland in the winter, and birds ringed in Britain and Ireland have been found on the mainland Europe, indicating movement to the continent. However, these movements have not been effectively recorded, and metal ringing alone does not provide sufficient data on regular or annual movements.

Purple – found here but ringed in UK / Ireland

Orange – ringed here but found in UK / Ireland

Ringing recoveries of Moorhen
Map produced by BTO for Ringing and Nest Recording Report 2021.

To address these gaps in knowledge, the National Moorhen Colour-ringing Project is coordinating efforts among a team of ringers and independent ringing groups to mark birds across Britain and Ireland . By increasing the number of birds ringed and the number of recoveries and sightings, the project aims to discover the seasonal movements of Moorhen, including local dispersal, spring and/or autumn migration within the UK and overseas, and other aspects of their lifecycle such as site fidelity and survival.

To our knowledge, no survival estimates for British and Irish Moorhen have ever been produced. If sufficient data are collected, we hope to run survival estimates to contribute to our understanding of this species’ lives.

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