I had just returned from work and was parking my vehicle, when I heard some loud strange noises in the field beyond the boundary wall of my house. It was raining and I should have rushed into the house, but the noises were so unusual that I didn’t mind soaking in the rain to investigate their source. Because I had heard these noises before, I knew exactly what I was looking for- the white breasted waterhen. This is the sound I heard:
The white-breasted waterhen is a waterbird of the rail and crake family. They are largely crepuscular, which means you will find them most active towards twilight. They first caught my eye, when I heard what sounded like a raucous quarrel outside my bedroom window. And then I realized that their breeding starts just after the first showers of rain and their loud repetitive calls are courtship calls. Their nesting phase is usually between June to October.
The white-breasted water hen
I also saw these birds in the islands in the Maldives
These birds are large and the adult birds have dark slaty grey upper plumage and flanks. But it is the mask-like white face, and the white on the breast, neck and belly which is most conspicuous. They have rather large ungainly looking yellow feet. They are bold birds and I often see them foraging in pairs, walking with their tails cocked upright in marshy areas. They have a peculiar jerky walk and they are unusually confident unlike the other secretive rails of their family. When disturbed they loathe flying and prefer running for cover.
Several writers have described their loud calls with very funny descriptions. Their ordinary calls are sharp and metallic, almost like the pounding sound of a mortar and pestle. Eha described the call thus: “It began with loud harsh roars which might have been elicited from a bear by roasting it slowly over a large fire, then suddenly changed to a clear note repeated like the coo of a dove.” I find their jarring strident calls akin to the loud bickerings of incompatible couple!