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Dutch moorhens


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The little Dutch moorhens I watched in Amsterdam are about the most aggressive creatures I've ever seen, and are at their worst during nesting season.

The moorhens ("meerkoetjes" in Dutch) are black waterbirds about ten inches (25 cm) long, tip to tail. They have small, pointed yellow beaks and of course webbed feet. They live on the surface of the water — and a good thing that is, because they'd probably attack people and animals if they walked on land. As it is, they spend much of their time harrassing each other.

Their mode of attack is to run along the surface of the water, menacing another of their kind by coming at it from above and behind — behind because the other bird wisely runs away. There is a characteristic sound of flapping and splashing as the one chases the other just out of the immediate area — usually no more than five or six meters away. Sometimes the other bird will simply bloop underwater, remain there for a few moments, and come back up, apparently unbothered. Anyhow, he'll do it in return when he gets his chance.

During nesting season, the moorhen will construct a nest of available sticks and sticklike rubbish, upon any flat area near the surface of the water. A tire, the rim of a houseboat, or any such accommodation will do. With a nest, the birds are even nastier than usual. But it doesn't take a nest or a nesting season to make a fight. You'll normally see the moorhens in groups on larger canals, floating about their business, when one of them will just take some momentary inspiration, get up and chase another away. Not really away; just to another part of the same area of the canal.


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