Plants and Animals

Gallinula galeata Common gallinule

Key Characteristics

Common moorhens are duck-like birds with dark bodies, a white undertail, and white flank stripes. Perhaps the most conspicuous characteristic is the red-orange bill and forehead shield with a yellow tip.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: T - Threatened (legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Allegan 2 2019
Alpena 1 2019
Arenac 2 2019
Baraga 1 2007
Bay 4 2019
Charlevoix 1 1999
Chippewa 1 2018
Clinton 1 1996
Delta 1 2022
Hillsdale 1 2018
Houghton 1 2007
Huron 1 2007
Ingham 1 2009
Isabella 1 2009
Jackson 2 2022
Kalamazoo 1 2019
Macomb 1 2016
Mason 1 2005
Monroe 2 2019
Montcalm 1 2006
Roscommon 1 1999
Saginaw 2 2018
St. Clair 2 2017
Tuscola 1 2019
Washtenaw 2 2005
Wayne 1 2007

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Common moorhens use a variety of emergent marsh types but also lakes and ponds with emergent and grassy vegetation along the border.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Wetland management should focus on providing a diverse mosaic of emergent marsh known as a hemi-marsh. The hemi-marsh condition is considered a 50:50 mix of emergent vegetation and open water that are well interspersed. Moorhens nest in dense emergent vegetation over water 1 to 4 feet deep. In impoundments used by Common Moorhens and other marsh nesting birds, care should be taken to avoid dramatic increases or decrease in water level during the nesting season that may flood nests or ease access by predators, respectively. If multiple impoundments are available in a small area the water levels in them can be managed in a rotation so that in any given year at least some suitable habitat will be available while some areas are allowed to drain before reflooding.

Active Period

Migration from third week of March to fourth week of April

Migration from first week of September to third week of November

Nesting from first week of May to third week of July

Survey Methods

Moorhens may be surveyed by scanning the edges of open water areas in marshes from a boat or canoe or from adjacent uplands like dikes. Call playback may also be used to enhance the detection rate for birds that may be in the vegetation out of plain sight.

Visual scans, call playback

Survey Period: From first week of May to second week of July

Time of Day: Daytime


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Brewer, R., G. A. McPeek, and R. J. Adams Jr., eds. 1991. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing. 650pp.
  • Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Knopf, Toronto. 544pp.

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