Crakes are a small, delicate bird, rather alike in build and size to the moorhens or coots found in
temperate zones. These species are in the same family, the rails (Rallidae), as their cousins with whom
they share similar habitat and behavior. Rails are typically narrow in profile (laterally compressed), with
cryptic plumage. Crakes are similar but tend to have shorter bills than other rails.
Rails are shy birds and rarely seen in their natural habitat. Those that move between preferred roosting
grounds and feeding sites do so at night.
HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
The ranges of individual species of rails are not well-known in most cases, due to their secretive habits.
Indeed, some difficulty identifying the species featured on this website was due to the inadequate
information on the range of the species.
Initially thought to be a paint-billed crake (Neocrex
erythrops), experts pointed out that it is a gray-breasted crake (Laterallus exilis). (These
species are very similar, which contributed to the error, even though taxonomists place these species in
different genera!) According to the book by Steven Hilty, the gray-breasted crake does not occur east of
the Andes, so the paint-billed crake was a preferred identification, since Hilty's map indicated it been
found in Amazonia.
Most rails live in wet habitats, such as swamps, or lake or river edges among reeds and tall aquatic
vegetation. They might be found in flooded rice fields, and wet meadows, and usually require shallow
Around the Explorama Lodge facility in Amazonian Peru, seven species on this family have been
Chestnut-headed Crake Anurolimnas castaneiceps
Rufous-sided Crake Laterallus melanophaius
Black-banded Crake Anurolimnas faciatus
Gray-necked Wood-Rail Aramides cajanea
Sora Porzana carolina
Blackish Rail Pardirallus nigricans
Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinica
FEEDING AND DIET
As a group, rails are omnivorous, mostly eating insects and other aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. Despite their
unobtrusiveness, they play an important part in the ecology of wetlands. They help control populations
of their prey and in turn are food for predators such as owls and snakes.
Most rails nest in dense vegetation. A number of species (such as the black rail, considered conspecific with the
gray-breasted crake) are territorial. To signify their territories individiuals call loudly and often during the mating season.
In this group of birds, clutch size tends to be small. The gray-breasted crake lays about three eggs, cream-colored
with dark brownish spots at the wider end.
Due to the notoriously secretive nature of these birds, their conservation status is poorly known. Several island
species in other parts of the world have become extinct. Others are thought to be close to extinction. As poor
fliers (or flightless in the case of island species), these birds are vulnerable to ground predators. However,
the main threat is drainage of wetlands for development.