Adult white-breasted waterhens have mainly dark grey upperparts and flanks, and a white face, neck and breast. The lower belly and undertail are cinnamon coloured. The body is flattened laterally to allow easier passage through the reeds or undergrowth. They have long toes, a short tail and a yellow bill and legs. Sexes are similar but females measure slightly smaller. Immature birds are much duller versions of the adults. The downy chicks are black, as with all rails.
These birds are usually seen singly or in pairs as they forage slowly along the edge of a waterbody mainly on the ground but sometimes clambering up low vegetation. The tail is held up and jerked as they walk. They probe with their bill in mud or shallow water, also picking up food by sight. They may sometimes feed in deeper water in the manner of a moorhen. They nest in a dry location on the ground in marsh vegetation.
They mainly eat insects (large numbers of beetles have been recorded), small fish (which are often carefully washed in water), aquatic invertebrates and grains as well as grass seeds and the roots and shoots of marsh plants.
The nesting season is mainly June to October but varies locally. They nest in a dry location on the ground in marsh vegetation,usually laying 6-7 eggs. The eggs hatch in about 19 days. Both sexes incubate the eggs and take care of the chicks.
The white-breasted waterhen global population is estimated to be around 10,000 to 100,000 individual birds. However the population trend is uncertain, as waterhen occurrence is in extremely large range. It is considered that they do not approach the thresholds for the Vulnerable species. Destruction, modification and fragmentation of the natural habitats are the main threats for the survival of these waterhen species.
A protected bird in Maldives since 11th July 1999.
National bird of Maldives.