Wild Birds

African Rail

The African Rail (Rallus caerulescens) is a small wetland bird of the rail family.

Its breeding habitat is marshes and reedbeds across eastern and southern Africa from Ethiopia to South Africa. Many birds are permanent residents, but some undertake seasonal movements in response to the availability of wetlands.

Adults are 28-30 cm long, and have mainly brown upperparts and blue-grey underparts, with black-and-white barring on the flanks and undertail. This is the only Rallus species with a plain back. The body is flattened laterally to allow easier passage through the reeds. They have long toes, a short tail, and a long slim dull red bill. The legs are red.

The African Rail nests in a dry location in marsh vegetation, with both sexes building the cup nest. The typical clutch is 2-6 heavily-spotted creamy-white eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 20 days to hatch Immature birds are similar to the adults, but the blue-grey is replaced by buff. The precocial downy chicks are black, as with all rails.

These birds probe with their bill in mud or shallow water, also picking up food by sight. They mainly eat insects, crabs, and other small aquatic animals.

African Rails are secretive in the breeding season but are easier to see than many other rail species, especially in the morning. They are noisy birds, with a trilled whistled treee-tee-tee-tee-tee call.


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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