window spacer


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.

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 standing water.

Around the Explorama Lodge facility in Amazonian Peru, seven species on this family have been recorded:
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

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.


Belize Biodiversity Information System: Gray-breasted Crake
Stiles, F.G. and D.J. Levey (1988) The Gray-Breasted Crake (Laterallus exilis) in Costa Rica: Vocalizations, Distribution, and Interactions with White-Throated Crakes (L. albigularis) The Condor 90: 607-612
Google Book Search: "gray breasted" crake
Lifemapper: map of specimen collection localities and predicted distribution for "Laterallus exilis"
ITIS Report: Laterallus exilis Rails, coots, and moorhens
Wikipedia: Rallidae
Cornell University Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology: Crakes, rails, coots, gallinules
Animal Diversity Web: Family Rallidae
iziko: Family: Rallidae

Mainly photos
Xenornis: Gray-breasted Crake
iziko: Family: Rallidae
Wikipedia Commons: Laterallus exilis

Top of page

back to the crake photo

crake photo


Back to Amazon animals

© Jungle Photos 2000-2014

window spacer