Water Rails occur throughout much of Europe north to southern Fenno-Scandia and central Russia and thence discontinuously across central Asia to Japan and south to North Africa, the Middle East and China. In the western temperate zone they are mostly resident. Elsewhere in Europe and much of Asia they migrate south and southwest in winter.
    In Great Britain Water Rails are found in static or slow-moving freshwater with tall emergent vegetation and some open expanses of mud. Areas of such habitat were once much commoner than they are now and what was once a common breeding species throughout the country had, by the 1960s, ceased to breed in much of Scotland, Wales and northeast, central and southwest England.
    In Wiltshire, Water Rails are widespread and reasonably common between November and March, but only a few are present throughout the year. There have been occasional confirmed breeding records. Birds of Wiltshire recorded them breeding at one site in the Cotswold Water Park (CWP), and present in ten other tetrads in summer and in about 30 tetrads in winter. WTA2 recorded breeding at two separate sites at the CWP and present at 13 other sites in summer and at 72 sites in winter. Most of the records have been of single birds but counts of up to 20 have been noted and it is likely that this highly secretive species is significantly under-recorded.


The following references are used throughout these species accounts, in the abbreviated form given in quotation marks:
1968-72 Breeding Atlas” – Sharrack, J.T.R. 1976:  The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. Poyser
1981-84 Winter Atlas” – Lack, P.C. 1986:  The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. Poyser
1988-91 Breeding Atlas” – Gibbons, D.W., Reid, J.B. & Chapman, R.A. 1993: The New Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland 1988-91. T. & A. Poyser
Birds of Wiltshire” – Ferguson-Lees, I.J. et al. 2007 : Birds of Wiltshire, published by the tetrad atlas group of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society after mapping fieldwork 1995-2000. Wiltshire Ornithological Society.
Bird Atlas 2007-2011” – Balmer, D.E., Gillings, S., Caffrey, B.J., Swann, R.L., Downie, I.S. and Fuller, R.J. 2013: Bird Atlas 2007-2011: the Breeding and Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland
WTA2” – ("Wiltshire Tetrad Atlas 2 ") the present electronic publication, bringing together the Wiltshire data from “Birds of Wiltshire” and “Bird Atlas 2007-11”, together with data from further fieldwork carried out in 2011 and 2012.
"Hobby" - the annual bird report of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society.