The family Rallidae
is a large group of small to medium-sized birds which includes
the rails, crakes, coots, and gallinules. Nearly all members are
associated with wetlands. There are exceptions, however, notably
the Corncrake which breeds on farmland. The most typical family
members occupy dense vegetation in damp environments near lakes,
swamps, or rivers. Reedbeds 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, 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 be
weak fliers, although 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.
species are secretive, apart from loud calls, and 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 open water than their relatives, and some other
large species are called gallinules.
Taxonomy: The family
Rallidae has traditionally been grouped with two families of
larger birds, the cranes and bustards to make up the order Gruiformes.
The alternative Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, which has been widely
accepted in America, raises the family to ordinal level as the
Above Images From The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service