Rallidae – Rails, Crakes, Gallinules & Coots etc.

Band-bellied Crake Porzana paykullii ©Craig Brelsford Website

The Rallidae, commonly ‘rails’, are a large cosmopolitan family of small to medium-sized birds. The family exhibits considerable diversity and the family also includes rails, crakes, coots, swamphens and gallinules. Many species are associated with wetlands, although the family is found in every terrestrial habitat except dry deserts, polar regions and alpine areas above the snow line.

Members of the Rallidae are found on every continent except Antarctica. There are numerous island species. The most common habitats are marshland or dense forest. Rails are especially fond of dense vegetation. The most typical family members occupy dense vegetation in damp environments near lakes, swamps, or rivers. Reed beds are a particularly favoured habitat. They are omnivorous, and those that migrate do so at night: most nest in dense vegetation. In general, they are shy and secretive birds, and are difficult to observe.

Most species walk and run vigorously on strong legs, and have long toes which are well adapted to soft, uneven surfaces. They tend to have short, rounded wings and although they are generally weak fliers, they are, nevertheless, capable of covering long distances.

Island species often become flightless, and many of them are now extinct following the introduction of terrestrial predators such as cats, rats and pigs.

Many reedbed species are secretive (apart from loud calls), crepuscular, and have laterally flattened bodies. In the Old World, long-billed species tend to be called rails and short-billed species crakes. North American species are normally called rails irrespective of bill length.

The larger species are also sometimes given other names. The black coots are more adapted to open water than their relatives, and some other large species are called gallinules and swamp hens.

The rails have suffered disproportionally from human changes to the environment and it is estimated that several hundred species of island rail have become extinct because of this. Several island species of rail remain endangered and conservation organisations and governments continue to work to prevent their extinction.

According to the IOC there are 134 extant species of Rallidae (Rails, Crakes, Coots & Gallinules), which are:

Nkulengu Rail Himantornis haematopus

Swinhoe’s Rail Coturnicops exquisitus
Yellow Rail Coturnicops noveboracensis
Speckled Rail Coturnicops notatus

Ocellated Crake Micropygia schomburgkii

Chestnut Forest Rail Rallicula rubra
White-striped Forest Rail Rallicula leucospila
Forbes’s Forest Rail Rallicula forbesi
Mayr’s Forest Rail Rallicula mayri

Red-necked Crake Rallina tricolor
Andaman Crake Rallina canningi
Red-legged Crake Rallina fasciata
Slaty-legged Crake Rallina eurizonoides

Chestnut-headed Crake Anurolimnas castaneiceps

Russet-crowned Crake Laterallus viridis
Black-banded Crake Laterallus fasciatus
Rufous-sided Crake Laterallus melanophaius
Rusty-flanked Crake Laterallus levraudi
Ruddy Crake Laterallus ruber
White-throated Crake Laterallus albigularis
Grey-breasted Crake Laterallus exilis
Black Rail Laterallus jamaicensis
Galapagos Crake Laterallus spilonota
Red-and-white Crake Laterallus leucopyrrhus
Rufous-faced Crake Laterallus xenopterus

Woodford’s Rail Nesoclopeus woodfordi

Weka Gallirallus australis
Calayan Rail Gallirallus calayanensis
New Caledonian Rail Gallirallus lafresnayanus
Lord Howe Woodhen Gallirallus sylvestris
Okinawa Rail Gallirallus okinawae
Barred Rail Gallirallus torquatus
Pink-legged Rail Gallirallus insignis
Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis
Guam Rail Gallirallus owstoni
Roviana Rail Gallirallus rovianae
Slaty-breasted Rail Gallirallus striatus

Mangrove Rail Rallus longirostris
Clapper Rail Rallus crepitans
Ridgway’s Rail Rallus obsoletus
King Rail Rallus elegans
Aztec Rail Rallus tenuirostris
Plain-flanked Rail Rallus wetmorei
Virginia Rail Rallus limicola
Ecuadorian Rail Rallus aequatorialis
Bogota Rail Rallus semiplumbeus
Austral Rail Rallus antarcticus
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus
African Rail Rallus caerulescens
Madagascan Rail Rallus madagascariensis

Brown-banded Rail Lewinia mirifica
Lewin’s Rail Lewinia pectoralis
Auckland Rail Lewinia muelleri

White-throated Rail Dryolimnas cuvieri

African Crake Crex egregia
Corn Crake Crex crex

Rouget’s Rail Rougetius rougetii

Snoring Rail Aramidopsis plateni

Inaccessible Island Rail Atlantisia rogersi

Little Wood Rail Aramides mangle
Rufous-necked Wood Rail Aramides axillaris
Grey-necked Wood Rail Aramides cajaneus
Rufous-naped Wood Rail Aramides albiventris
Brown Wood Rail Aramides wolfi
Giant Wood Rail Aramides ypecaha
Slaty-breasted Wood Rail Aramides saracura
Red-winged Wood Rail Aramides calopterus

Uniform Crake Amaurolimnas concolor

Blue-faced Rail Gymnocrex rosenbergii
Talaud Rail Gymnocrex talaudensis
Bare-eyed Rail Gymnocrex plumbeiventris

Brown Crake Amaurornis akool
Isabelline Bush-hen Amaurornis isabellina
Plain Bush-hen Amaurornis olivacea
Pale-vented Bush-hen Amaurornis moluccana
Talaud Bush-hen Amaurornis magnirostris
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
Black Crake Amaurornis flavirostra
Sakalava Rail Amaurornis olivieri

Black-tailed Crake Porzana bicolor
Little Crake Porzana parva
Baillon’s Crake Porzana pusilla
Spotted Crake Porzana porzana
Australian Crake Porzana fluminea
Sora Porzana carolina
Dot-winged Crake Porzana spiloptera
Ash-throated Crake Porzana albicollis
Ruddy-breasted Crake Porzana fusca
Band-bellied Crake Porzana paykullii
Spotless Crake Porzana tabuensis
Henderson Crake Porzana atra
Yellow-breasted Crake Porzana flaviventer
White-browed Crake Porzana cinerea

Striped Crake Aenigmatolimnas marginalis

Zapata Rail Cyanolimnas cerverai

Colombian Crake Neocrex colombiana
Paint-billed Crake Neocrex erythrops

Spotted Rail Pardirallus maculatus
Blackish Rail Pardirallus nigricans
Plumbeous Rail Pardirallus sanguinolentus

Chestnut Rail Eulabeornis castaneoventris

Invisible Rail Habroptila wallacii

New Guinea Flightless Rail Megacrex inepta

Watercock Gallicrex cinerea

Western Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
African Swamphen Porphyrio madagascariensis
Grey-headed Swamphen Porphyrio poliocephalus
Black-backed Swamphen Porphyrio indicus
Philippine Swamphen Porphyrio pulverulentus
Australasian Swamphen Porphyrio melanotus
South Island Takahe Porphyrio hochstetteri
Allen’s Gallinule Porphyrio alleni
Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinica
Azure Gallinule Porphyrio flavirostris

Makira Woodhen Gallinula silvestris
Gough Moorhen Gallinula comeri
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata
Dusky Moorhen Gallinula tenebrosa

Lesser Moorhen Paragallinula angulata

Spot-flanked Gallinule Porphyriops melanops

Black-tailed Nativehen Tribonyx ventralis
Tasmanian Nativehen Tribonyx mortierii

Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Hawaiian Coot Fulica alai
American Coot Fulica americana
White-winged Coot Fulica leucoptera
Andean Coot Fulica ardesiaca
Red-gartered Coot Fulica armillata
Red-fronted Coot Fulica rufifrons
Giant Coot Fulica gigantea
Horned Coot Fulica cornuta

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 134

Useful Reading
  • Rails

    A Guide to the Rails, Crakes, Gallinules and Coots of the World by Barry Taylor and Ber van Perlo - Pica Press 1998 ISBN: 1873403593 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • BirdLife International - Corncrake Conservation Team

    International conservation efforts for Corncrake Crex crex… Fifth meeting of the Corncrake Conservation Team 2015
Photographers & Artists
  • Australian Crake Porzana fluminea

    Excellent image
  • Baillons Crake Porzana pusilla

    Vintage images…
  • Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis

    Excellent image
  • Buff-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura elegans

    Buff-spotted Flufftails photographed at their nest in the garden of Don and Gill Lietch at Melmoth…
  • Common Coot Fulica atra

    Excellent Image
  • Dusky Moorhen Gallinula tenebrosa

    [slightly over-exposed] image
  • Dusky Moorhen Gallinula tenebrosa

    Several images
  • Eurasian Coot Fulica atra

    Excellent images
  • European Crakes

    Photographs of some European crakes…
  • Grey-necked Wood-Rail Aramides cajanea

    Terrific image
  • Okinawa Rail Gallirallus okinawae

    Excellent Image
  • Ruddy-breasted Crake Porzana fusca

    Handbook of the Birds of the World
    Images, account, links etc…
  • Slaty-legged Crake Rallina eurizonoides

    Very good image
  • Virginia Rail Rallus limicola

    Image & notes
  • White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus

    Excellent image
  • White-winged Coot Fulica leucoptera


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