The adult of the nominate subspecies is a medium-sized rail, 23-28 cm (9-11 in) long with a 38-45 cm (15-17.7 in) wingspan. Males weigh 114-164 g and females are slightly lighter at 92-107 g. The upper parts from the forehead to tail are olive-brown with black streaks, especially on the shoulders. The sides of the head and the underparts are dark slate-blue, except for a blackish area between bill and eye, and brownish sides to the upper breast. The flanks are barred black and white, and the undertail is white with some darker streaks. The long bill and the iris are red, and the legs are flesh-brown. The sexes are similar; but the female is smaller with a more slender bill.

Habitat and Distribution

The Water Rail breeds across temperate Eurasia from Iceland and the British Isles discontinuously to North Africa, Saudi Arabia and western China. The breeding habitat of the Water Rail is permanent wetland with still or slow-moving fresh or brackish water and dense, tall vegetation. On migration and in winter, a wider range of wet habitats may be used, including flooded thickets or bracken.


They are omnivores eating leeches, worms, gastropods, small crustaceans, spiders, and other terrestrial and aquatic insects and their larvae. Small vertebrates such as amphibians, fish, birds and mammals may be killed or eaten as carrion.


The nest is made from whatever wetland vegetation is available and built mostly by the male, usually in a single day. It is raised 15 cm (6 in) or more above the level of the marsh. The typical clutch is 6-11 eggs across most of the range. The eggs are blunt and oval, smooth and slightly glossy; the colour varies from off-white to pink-buff, with reddish-brown blotches at the broader end. The eggs are incubated for 19-22 days by both parents.