Australian Bush Birds
Tasmanian Native-hen  -  Tribonyx mortierii
Native hen
Tasmanian Native hen with red eye, brown upper parts, vertical black tail and pale patch near leg. This flightless bird can run very fast. (Nth Midlands, Tas)
Native hen
Tasmanian Native Hen. (Nth Midlands, Tas)
map map The Tasmanian Native-hen - Tribonyx mortierii - is a flightless, moderately large, bird (45 to 48 centimetres). Upper parts are brown tinged with green; tail is duskier to black, short and held erect. Under parts are grey with a blue tinge, grading to black on the the belly and tail. There is a prominent white patch on the flanks; the strong beak is yellow-orange. Legs and feet are grey. Male and female are similar in appearance. Immatures have a dull form of the adult plumage with grey tinge and brown eyes.

Lives on edges of wetlands, in margins of woodland and on roadside verges. Also in creek-side tussocks and thickets providing shelter. Found on grassed farmland. Rests in cover for much of the day, emerging at dawn and dusk to feed on plant shoots and insects. May become a pest in crops.

Tasmanian Native Hen - page 2
When disturbed runs swiftly across roads and paddock; swims and dives readily to escape a threat. When alarmed flicks it stubby tail vertically; there is no white under the tail.

This bird is found only in Tasmania mainly from sea-level up to 700 metres elevation and sometimes up to 1100 metres, on the north and east coast and the Midlands. Generally avoids the rugged western parts. This flightless bird can run very fast, using its stubby wings for balance when pursued. Sedentary, individuals rarely move more than three kilometres from their parent's nest (the recorded maximum is 40 kilometres).

Lives in small groups of one female and one or two, occasionally more, males plus the young of the previous season. Males of a nesting group are often brothers. The group works to establish and defend a permanent territory from 5,000 square metres growing to 15,000 square metres; group activity includes nest-building, incubating and rearing chicks. Territory is defended initially by display and calling; if that does not repel the intruder, fighting ensues. Territorial defence habits mean that old established groups hold the largest territory in the best habitat forcing younger groups into new ground.

Breeding takes place from July to December. Females initiate courtship but both birds engage in singing duets which have been described as repeated shrieks. The nest is a cup of grass or reeds made by birds pulling tussock up by the roots and trampling them into the required shape. The nest is built in undergrowth, long grass or tussocks; occasionally floating anchored in reeds.

Four or six to nine eggs are laid, buff grey or greenish, marked with blotches and finely spotted chestnut; oval, about 55 by 39 millimetres. Incubated by all members of the group. Chicks are looked after for about eight weeks.

Other names include Native Hen, Water Hen.
Previously known as Gallinula mortierii.

Tasmanian Native Hen Tasmanian Native Hen
Left. Head with prominent round, red eye. (Nth Midlands, Tas).
Right. White patch above grey leg. (Hobart Waterworks Reserve, Tas)