This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The Water-hen (Galinula chloropus), Fig. 41, right-hand figure, belongs to the family Rallidae or Rails, and sub-family Gallinulinae.
It is rather common along the reedy banks of rivers and ponds. It is a good swimmer, though not web-footed, but has the toes furnished with a narrow membrane; it also dives with great skill and rapidity. The upper plumage is deep olive-brown, under blackish-grey.' It runs on land with considerable activity, constantly flirting up its tail, so as to show the white feathers beneath,.
Fig. 41. - The Little Grebe or Dabchick (left hand), and Water-hen (right hand).
The nest of the water-hen is built among sedges and reeds at the waterside, though we have known the nest made on a low bush by an ornamental lake, and contains from five to eight or nine eggs, of a creamy-yellow spotted with dark brown. The young when hatched look like round tufts of black down, and have conspicuous orange-coloured bills. They swim and dive well, albeit they sometimes fall a prey to the pike. The water-hen feeds upon worms, slugs, small mollusca, beetles, grasshoppers, and other insects, seeds, grasses, and water-cresses, hence not tolerated in water-cress beds.
The Coot (Fulica atra), of the same natural order as the water-hen, is of a dark slate colour, but the frontal plate is white, and there is also a narrow strip of white across the wings. The nest is usually at or near the water's edge, consisting of a huge mass of flags, reeds and grass, and is sometimes located in the water, being supported by sedges, etc. The eggs, from eight to fifteen in number, are of a greyish-brown colour with spots of a darker brown. The young when hatched are covered with a thick down, and they take to the water very soon. In the breeding season coots are found in pairs, but in winter these birds assemble in great numbers on the banks of rivers, lakes and in marshes. As they see very well during the night, it is then they seek for food, and sometimes may be seen flying from one pond to another. The food consists of worms, slugs, small mollusca, grasshoppers and aquatic insects, seeds, grasses, and watercress, with, some say, fish.