Family Rails, Gallinules, Coots (Rallidae)

Least Concern

White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)


French: Râle à poitrine blanche German: Weißbrust-Kielralle Spanish: Gallineta pechiblanca

Gallinula phoenicurus


, 1769,

Sri Lanka


Considerable individual variation in size and plumage renders determination of subspecies difficult, leading to various treatments. Here, possible races chinensis (much of mainland range from India E to E China) and javanica (Malay Peninsula, Greater Sundas) included within nominate owing to overlap in measurements, but may well be valid; proposed race maldiva (Maldive Is) also subsumed within nominate, leucocephalus (Car Nicobar) within insularis, and variabilis (Sulawesi) in leucomelana. Four subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • A. p. phoenicurus (Pennant, 1769) – Pakistan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka to E China, Taiwan, Ryukyu Is, Bonin Is and Japan, and S through SE Asia and Philippines to Greater Sundas, Christmas I and Cocos (Keeling) Is; N populations winter to S, ranging W to Arabia. Currently expanding N into Japan and Korea, and E into Micronesia (Cocos, Yap)#R.
  • A. p. insularis Sharpe, 1894 – Andaman Is and Nicobar Is (except C Nicobars).
  • A. p. midnicobarica Abdulali, 1978 – C Nicobar Is.
  • A. p. leucomelana (S. Müller, 1842) – Sulawesi, W Moluccas and Lesser Sundas.
  • Birds from Sangihe and Talaud Is (NE of Sulawesi) normally included in nominate race, but may be closer to other Sulawesi forms; further study needed#R.

    Descriptive notes

    28–33 cm; male 203–328 (228·5) g, female 166–225 (196·5) g; wingspan 49 cm. Relatively large, distinctive species; unmistakable, with... read more


    Characteristic very loud call comprises variety of roars, grunts, croaks and chuckles, followed by... read more


    Reedy or grassy swamps, marshes, tall grass with reeds and shrubs, bamboo stands, wet scrub, rice... read more

    Food and feeding

    Worms, molluscs, insects (beetles, grasshoppers, etc.) and their larvae, spiders and small fish; also grass seeds, and shoots and roots of... read more


    India and Pakistan, Jun–Oct (SW monsoon); Andaman and Nicobar Is, Jun–Jul; Ryukyu, Apr–Oct; Sumatra, Jan, May, Jul, Sept... read more


    Resident throughout most of range, but N populations winter S to Lesser Sundas, occurring W to... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Formerly regarded as common throughout range. Currently common in Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali, and fairly common though local in... read more

    Recommended citation

    Taylor, B. (2020). White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus). 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 25 February 2020).