The white-breasted waterhen

The white-breasted waterhen seems very happy to be wandering through the underbrush!

The white-breasted waterhen seems very happy to be wandering through the underbrush!

There’s a waterhen in our garden! We’re intrigued, because we don’t have any water features in the garden apart from puddles after it rains, and yet this very shy bird has been here – whether visiting or living, we can’t tell yet – for about two weeks now.

It all started when I heard something moving around somewhere behind the lime tree, and when I peeped over there, I had a very quick glimpse of a round, medium to large dark body higher off the ground than a mynah, and a face with white around the eyes, that for some reason I thought were crescent-shaped. It scooted off in a second, and I was left with the impression of a wading bird instead of the pitta, which we were hoping to see but haven’t yet. I started searching online with the fleeting details I could remember but could not find a decent match.

Fast forward more than a week, and my mum finally got a shot of the mysterious bird as it happily wandered around in the underbrush around the mango tree. I identified it positively as the white-breasted waterhen, and our paparazzi stalking commenced.

I have to say that this bird is very alert and quick to conceal itself. The only way we’ve been able to observe it is from a window upstairs, hidden behind the curtain. When it realises it has been seen, it darts under plants to hide! So, getting halfway decent images of it has been challenging.

The white-breasted waterhen has black upper parts, with white running from its face down its belly. It is supposed to have chestnut flanks and under tail, but I can’t say that we’ve seen that yet. We got our information from Ria Tan’s website on Sungei Buloh wetlands reserve. It’s a great resource on the flora and fauna there and around Singapore.

I don’t know why we get such an interesting variety of birds visiting our garden. No, that’s not true. They come here because it’s not a manicured place. Some people admire how natural it is while others call it a “jungle” (it’s not that far gone, really! Those people are just being snarky). Truth be told, a friend who is a senior lecturer of Biological Sciences at NUS once suggested that we leave part of the garden untouched and see what happened. It wasn’t intended to actually do that, but parts that are not tended to often enough have come about, and interestingly, those are the areas that the unique birds like – the magpie robins, two different types of pittas, the one-time visiting vulturine guineafowl, and now this waterhen. These are the ones we’ve noticed; who knows if and how many others there are? There’s an abundance of wonderful birds that live and migrate through our tropical country and we’re very pleased to host some of them!

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