Tasmanian Native Hen
The Tasmanian native hen (Gallinula mortierii) is a distant relative of the domestic hen. It is found only in Tasmania, being distributed throughout the State except for the west and southwest. It ranges from the coast to areas 1000 m above sea level. Like the thylacine and Tasmanian devil, native hens became extinct on the mainland around the time the dingo arrived in Australia.
Tasmanian native hens are most common on marshes, river flats and near fresh water streams and rivers. Their ideal habitat is short, grazed pasture and damp pasture near streams with grassy vegetation for nesting. Although they cannot fly, they are good swimmers and very fast runners. When a native hen senses danger they often flick their tail to warn others and if chased will seek the shelter of grass or reeds. Using their short wings for balance, they are capable of running at 50 km per hour.
Native hens are very social and make a number of calls including a loud, distinctive rasping 'see-saw'. This call is often carried out in unison, with several birds joining in to produce a cacophony of noise.
Although native hens prefer open country around lagoons, water courses and pastures, they may visit urban gardens. They usually feed at dawn and dusk on grasses and seeds. Insects are eaten by young native hens. Unfortunately, the fondness that native hens have for clover and legumes may bring them into conflict with some farmers. See our pages on how to live with native hens on your property.
Note: The Tasmanian native hen is a protected species under Tasmania's legislation. This means it is an offence to take or have in possession a Tasmanian native hen unless authorised by a permit. Permits can be issued to landowners to take protected wildlife, including Tasmanian native hens, in specific circumstances to prevent the destruction of crops. However Recreational Game Licences are not issued for the taking of Tasmanian native hens.
Maria Island where a large introduced population has been established. They'll meet you at the ferry!
Marchant, S & Higgins, P. J. (Ed). (1993). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds, Volume 2. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Simpson, K. & Day, N. (1993). Field guide to the birds of Australia. Viking O'Neil, Victoria.
Slater, P., Slater, P. & Slater R. (1993). The Slater field guide to Australian birds. Rigby, Adelaide.
Tasmania Online | Service Tasmania
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