Wild Birds

Galapagos Rails

The Galapagos Rails, Laterallus spilonotus, is a small rail endemic to the Galapagos Islands. It closely resembles the closely related Black Rail of The Americas. It has been threatened by introduced species, such as goats and cats, and is considered vulnerable.


The Galapagos Rail is a small (15 cm) nearly flightless ground-living bird. It has dark plumage, black overall with a greyer head and breast, and white spots on the back. It has a scarlet eye, a black bill, and short, nearly useless wings. They are very vocal with a wide range of calls.


The Galapagos Rail lives in moist grasslands and forest, skulking in deep cover. In the Galapagos, these habitats are generally found on islands with higher elevations (particularly on the islands of Santiago, Santa Cruz, and Sierra Negra), and the rails are commonest higher up.

They feed on invertebrates, mostly snails, isopods, dragonflies, bugs, and ants, and also take berries and some seeds. They feed during the day, moving along the ground tossing leaves, and investigating the leaf litter.

Galapagos Rails and humans

The Galapagos Rail, despite being a nearly flightless island living rail, has managed to survive the arrival of humans in the Galapagos. It is a confiding species that is curious about humans and will approach and investigate them, this naivety makes it vulnerable to feral cats, dogs, and pigs.

Introduced goats and cattle also cause habitat loss which causes a drop in their numbers. The removal of goats and cattle, and the resulting regeneration of trees, shrubs, and grasses, leads quickly to a return of the rail.

As most of the Galapagos Rail’s habitat lies in a national park, and efforts are underway to remove the introduced species doing the most harm, the future is looking better for these birds.


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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