Rails (Family Rallidae)
The rails, or Family Rallidae, are a large cosmopolitan family of small to
medium-sized birds. The family exhibits considerable diversity and the
family also includes the crakes, coots, and gallinules. There is considerable
variation in common names used to define various Rallidae. 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 adapted to open water than their relatives, and
some other large species are called gallinules and swamphens.
Members of the Rallidae are found on every continent except Antarctica.
There are numerous island species. Many species are associated with wet-
lands, although the family is found in every terrestrial habitat except dry
deserts, polar regions and alpine areas above the snow line.
The most typical family members occupy dense vegetation in damp environ-
ments near lakes, swamps, marshland, dense forest, or rivers. Reed beds
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, and are 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 although they are generally weak fliers, they are,
nevertheless, capable of covering long distances.
The rails have suffered disproportionally from human changes to the
environment. Island species often become flightless, and many of them are
now extinct (It is estimated that several hundred species of island rail have
become extinct) following the introduction of terrestrial predators such as
cats, rats and pigs. Currently, several island species of rail remain endan-
gered and conservation organisations and governments continue to work
to prevent their extinction.
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