Family Rails, Gallinules, Coots (Rallidae)

Least Concern

Western Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)


French: Râle d’eau German: Wasserralle Spanish: Rascón europeo
Other common names: Water Rail (when lumped with R. indicus)

Rallus aquaticus


, 1758,

Great Britain


Closely related to R. caerulescens and R. madagascariensis. Until recently considered conspecific with R. indicus, which differs in its broad brown vs no or vestigial eyestripe (2); whiter preocular superciliary with markedly darker brown crown (ns[2]); more extensive white on throat (ns[2]); underparts paler grey with brown tinge, especially on breast (2); bold black bars on undertail-coverts (2); markedly different voice, song being a “cranking, rhythmic series of identical strident, metallic yet musical, upslurred SKRINK, SKRINK” vs “a single braying, squealing, pig-like SKREEEr that descends near end”#R (3). Proposed races arjanicus (from S Iran) and deserticola and tsaidamensis (both from N Qinghai, in WC China) are all regarded as synonyms of korejewi. Three subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • R. a. hibernans Salomonsen, 1930 – Iceland (possibly extinct).
  • R. a. aquaticus Linnaeus, 1758 – Europe, N Africa and W Asia to upper basin of R Ob; winters S to N Africa and E to the Caspian Sea.
  • R. a. korejewi Zarudny, 1905 – Aral Sea and L Balkhash S to Iran, Kashmir and WC China; winters patchily from Iraq to C China and possibly to coastal E China#R.
  • Descriptive notes

    25–28 cm; male 88–190 (128) g, female 74–138 (102) g; wingspan 38–45 cm. Female smaller, with shorter bill. In c. 60% of nominate birds, variable... read more


    Announcement call (known as “sharming”) comprises grunting notes rising in middle of... read more


    Occupies almost any type of dense riparian and aquatic vegetation at still or slow-moving water;... read more

    Food and feeding

    Worms, leeches, molluscs, shrimps, crayfish, spiders, many terrestrial and aquatic insects and their larvae (including Dermaptera, Odonata... read more


    W & C Europe, late Mar to Aug; Morocco and Algeria, May–Jun; Tunisia, Jun; Egypt, Apr–Jun; former USSR, May; Kashmir, Jun... read more


    Nominate race both sedentary and migratory, birds from N of range moving S & SW to winter in... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). No evidence of significant changes in status of nominate race, which is regarded as locally common over much of range, including N... read more

    Recommended citation

    Taylor, B. & Christie, D.A. (2020). Western Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 20 February 2020).