Most people with any interest in Singapore birds would know about the ubiquitous White-breasted Waterhen. The waterhen, also known in Malay as Burung Ruak-ruak, is a rather bold bird that thrives in most of our non-forested nature areas.
It stand to reason that if there is such a bird called waterhen, then there must be a species of bird called watercock too. And in reality there is! The Watercock (Gallicrex cinerea) is a waterbird that is a distant relative of the waterhen. It is a widely found species throughout Asia. Unfortunately in Singapore, it is listed as an uncommon winter visitor presently. In the past, it was a very common bird but drainage of many areas, and development of suitable habitat made for much reduced numbers.
The male in breeding plumage is a striking black bird with yellow bill, red frontal shield and legs. The female and the juvenile looks a lot duller with dark brown upperside and buff below with wavy greyish brown bars.
Behaviourally, they are more secretive, and they like to stay around freshwater and brackish wetlands. In normal circumstances they are more likely to be flushed out from the tall grasses or bushes where they normally resides
In February 2012, a non-breeding plumaged Watercock was spotted around the edges of Eco-Lake at Singapore Botanic Gardens. It was an opportunity for many to get a closer look of this normally secretive waterbird. From our observation, it was usually seen around the bushes at the edge of the lake. Occasionally it will come out in the open to forage, like the waterhens. Perhaps this specimen was habituated by the constant human traffic, so it did not seem as shy. Nonetheless, it quickly went back to the bushes once its foray outside attracted any attention.