Skip to content Skip to footer

Meet The National Bird of Maldives, The White Breasted Water-Hen (Kanbili)

Ah, the Maldives! A dreamy archipelago of 26 atolls in the midst of the azure Indian Ocean, famous for its coral reefs, luxury resorts, and crystal-clear waters. But beneath the waves and atop the white sandy beaches, there’s more than meets the eye.

Meet the Kanbili, the Maldives’ national bird – a spirited creature whose calls reverberate through the islands, creating a unique soundtrack to the Maldivian experience.

As you delve into this article, expect some surprises; for instance, did you know that, despite being named ‘Water hens’, these birds are quite clumsy swimmers? Intrigued? Read on.

Quick Info About The White Breasted Water-Hen

Scientific Name:Amaurornis phoenicurus
Average Size:8 inches (20 cm)
Average Wingspan:10-12 inches (25-30 cm)
Average Weight:3.5 – 4.5 ounces (100-130 g)
Average Lifespan:7-10 years
Geographical Range:South Asia and Southeast Asia
Habitat:Freshwater marshes, dense undergrowth on islands
Conservation Status:Least Concern (IUCN Red List)

Meet The White Breasted Water-Hen, National Bird of Maldives

Decked in a sleek, dark slate-grey coat with a contrasting whitish face, neck, and breast, the White Breasted Water-hen or Kanbili, is truly a sight to behold. Adding a splash of color to its appearance are the reddish-brown cinnamon shades brushing its lower belly and undertail, all supported by striking yellow legs and bill.

Though males and females appear quite alike, the females tend to be a tad bit smaller. Immature birds, however, don a much duller version of the adult’s vibrant attire.

Positioned quite centrally in the food chain, the Kanbili enjoys a diverse diet. From invertebrates like aquatic and terrestrial insects, worms, small frogs, and mollusks to the simpler pleasures of seeds, grass, shoots, and berries, they aren’t too fussy. On occasion, they might even venture into slightly deeper waters, imitating a moorhen.

As they forage, primarily along water edges, they’re a mesmerizing sight with their tail held high, jerked rhythmically with each step. But beware, raptors and larger carnivorous birds might have them on the menu.

A significant aspect of the Maldivian ecosystem, they help control insect populations and act as prey, ensuring the ecological balance is maintained.

So, the next time you’re in the Maldives, don’t just lounge on the beach or dive into the deep blue. Listen and look out for the Kanbili, the small but spirited bird that encapsulates the essence of this island paradise.

Maldives White Breasted Water-Hen

Where Does The White Breasted Water-Hen Live?

Globally, the White Breasted Water-hen is a bird native to many regions of South Asia and Southeast Asia. However, within the boundaries of the Maldives, the Kanbili has adapted wonderfully to the distinct Maldivian environment. Here, they are commonly found thriving amongst the dense undergrowth and foliage situated in the heart of the islands.

Naturally drawn to freshwater marshes in other parts of the world, the local Maldivian Kanbili showcases an impressive versatility in habitat preference.

With the Maldives being an archipelago surrounded by salty oceanic waters, these birds demonstrate adaptability by nesting and living away from freshwater sources, yet close enough to the coastlines.

Why and When Did The White Breasted Water-Hen Become The National Bird of Maldives?

The White Breasted Water-hen or Kanbili holds a unique place in the hearts of Maldivians. It was designated as the national bird of Maldives, symbolizing the natural beauty and vibrancy of the archipelago. Just like the islands themselves, the Kanbili represents resilience, adaptability, and uniqueness.

The cultural significance of the Kanbili in Maldivian folklore and daily life cannot be overstated. Its unique and boisterous calls, especially during the breeding season, have become a familiar backdrop to life in the Maldives. The bird’s affinity to remain close to the ground and its spirited nature reflects the grounded and vibrant spirit of the Maldivian people.

Maldives White Breasted Water-Hen

Where is The White Breasted Water-Hen Featured in Maldives?

Although the Kanbili, as a symbol, doesn’t find its way onto the national flag or banknotes of the Maldives, its significance isn’t any lesser. Being the national bird, it holds a special place in the collective consciousness of the Maldivians.

Many local artists, writers, and poets have drawn inspiration from this lively bird. Its image is frequently used in promotional materials to highlight the rich biodiversity of the Maldives.

Further, for tourists visiting the Maldives, the White Breasted Water-hen serves as a charming representative of the islands’ terrestrial wildlife. Numerous resorts and nature conservation awareness programs often spotlight the Kanbili, ensuring that visitors leave with memories of not just the stunning marine life but also of this spirited bird.

While the bird’s name hasn’t been used for any currency or major landmarks, its very presence and the fond stories surrounding it make it an inseparable part of Maldivian culture and heritage.

Names of The White Breasted Water-Hen

The White Breasted Water-hen is recognized by various names across different regions due to its wide distribution in South and Southeast Asia. In the Maldives, it is fondly referred to as Kanbili. Globally, it’s often called the “White Breasted Waterhen” or simply “Waterhen”.

Its scientific name is Amaurornis phoenicurus. As with many species, this bird may have local or indigenous names in various languages, reflecting its cultural significance in various regions.

In other countries and regions, it might be recognized by its characteristic white breast or its habitat, leading to names that translate to variations of “marsh bird” or “swamp hen”.

Is The White Breasted Water-Hen Endangered?

As of current data, the White Breasted Water-hen is not listed as endangered. It boasts a fairly wide distribution range and is abundant in many of its habitats. However, like many wildlife species, it could face threats from habitat loss, particularly in regions undergoing rapid urbanization or land changes.

In the Maldives, the islands’ commitment to environmental sustainability plays a role in providing the Kanbili with a stable habitat. Conservation awareness programs that spotlight native species, including the Kanbili, contribute to keeping both locals and tourists informed about the importance of these birds and their habitats.

While there aren’t any species-specific conservation strategies for the Kanbili, the broader ecological conservation measures in place in the Maldives inadvertently provide protection and sustenance for this national bird.

Maldives White Breasted Water-Hen

Interesting Facts About The White Breasted Water-Hen

  1. Not Avid Swimmers: Despite being termed ‘Water-hens’, the White Breasted Water-hens are not particularly good swimmers. This is in contrast to what their name suggests, highlighting nature’s unpredictable nature.
  2. Distinct Calls: The Kanbili has an incredibly distinctive call, especially noticeable during its breeding season. This unique vocalization has been a subject of fascination, even inspiring humorous attempts to describe it.
  3. Tail Behavior: When they walk, they often jerk their tails, which is not just a quirky feature but also a distinct behavior of this species.
  4. Adaptability: In the Maldives, the Kanbili showcases remarkable adaptability by thriving in environments different from its usual freshwater marsh habitats, nesting amidst dense island undergrowth.
  5. Role in Local Culture: Their boisterous presence has cemented them as a familiar backdrop to daily life in the Maldives, making them not just a bird species, but a part of Maldivian cultural heritage.

Other Beautiful Birds Native To Maldives

The Maldives, with its rich biodiversity and unique island ecosystem, is home to a plethora of bird species. Apart from the White Breasted Water-hen, here are five other remarkable birds native to the Maldives:

  • Maldivian Little Heron (Butorides striata didii): An endemic subspecies, this bird can be recognized by its striking blue-grey plumage and stealthy hunting behavior near water bodies.
  • Maldivian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii): Often seen near wetlands and marshes, this bird exhibits white plumage during breeding season, making it a beautiful sight.
  • Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus): Recognizable by its deep calls, this bird has a glossy dark body with bright red eyes.
  • White Tern (Gygis alba): Known locally as “Dhondheeni”, this pure white bird with black-rimmed eyes often catches the attention of birdwatchers and tourists alike.
  • Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel): This sea bird is often spotted soaring over the Maldivian waters, identifiable by its long wingspan and a deeply forked tail.

What Is Another National Animal of Maldives?

The Maldives also cherishes the Yellowfin Tuna (Thunnus albacares) as one of its national symbols. This fish is incredibly significant to the Maldivian economy and culture. Revered for its speed and beauty, the Yellowfin Tuna is often found in the warm, tropical waters surrounding the Maldivian atolls.

Its sleek, torpedo-shaped body, metallic blue on top and silver on the sides, is designed for speed and agility. The Maldivian fisheries, with their sustainable pole-and-line fishing methods, primarily focus on this species, making it an integral part of the nation’s cuisine, culture, and livelihood.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the White Breasted Water-hen called ‘Water-hen’ if it’s not a good swimmer?

The name “Water-hen” is reflective of its preferred habitats near freshwater marshes and water bodies. While it might not be an adept swimmer, it thrives around watery environments.

Are there any specific conservation efforts for the White Breasted Water-hen in the Maldives?

While there aren’t any specific conservation programs targeting the Kanbili, the Maldives’ broader environmental sustainability initiatives ensure the bird’s habitat remains protected.

What’s the significance of the White Breasted Water-hen’s call?

The Kanbili has a distinct call, especially vocal during its breeding season. This call is a unique aspect of Maldivian mornings and evenings.

Does the Maldives feature the White Breasted Water-hen on any official symbols or notes?

The White Breasted Water-hen is not featured on official notes or symbols. However, its status as the national bird ensures its cultural and symbolic importance in the Maldives.

Are the birds found throughout all the islands of the Maldives?

Yes, the White Breasted Water-hen is found abundantly across the Maldives, making their presence known on various islands with their boisterous behavior and distinctive calls.

Other National Symbols of the Maldives

Leave a Comment