Banded rail

Gallirallus philippensis (Linnaeus, 1766)

Order: Gruiformes

Family: Rallidae

New Zealand status: Native

Conservation status: Declining

Other names: mioweka, konini, kata tei, moho-pererū, buff-banded rail

Geographical variation: Two subspecies in the New Zealand bioregion, New Zealand banded rail (Naturally Uncommon); Macquarie Island banded rail G. p. macquariensis (Extinct).

Banded rail. Adult. Great Barrier Island, January 2014. Image © Bartek Wypych by Bartek Wypych

Banded rail. Adult. Great Barrier Island, January 2014. Image © Bartek Wypych by Bartek Wypych

Banded rail are rarely seen, as they are well-camouflaged and remain under the cover of wetland vegetation, although their footprints are often seen. They are now mainly found in mangrove and saltmarsh vegetation in the upper North Island. They have disappeared from most of New Zealand since the 1970s, but remain in coastal wetlands in the upper North Island, Marlborough and Nelson, in rush-covered areas and coastal wetlands on Great Barrier Island and in forest and shrubland on the Three Kings Islands and on four islands off Stewart Island.

Banded rail (also known as buff-banded rail) subspecies are found on the Cocos Islands (Indian Ocean), Indonesia, Philippines, Melanesia, western Polynesia, Australia and New Zealand.

Identification

The banded rail is a medium-sized, intricately patterned rail. The crown and back are olive-brown, with the back streaked with black and finely spotted with white. A pale grey eyebrow stripe and cheeks and throat are separated by a rufous eye-stripe that runs from the bill back to the rufous nape. A broad buff-orange band lies across the breast, and is separated from the grey throat by a narrow band of black-and-white barring. This barring continues around and below the buff breast band, becoming bold zebra stripes on the belly. The long, stout bill is reddish-brown, the eye dark-red, and the legs pinkish-brown. Immature birds are duller with a dark bill and legs, Nestlings are sooty black, with black feet and bill.

Voice: a swit contact call and a cackling alarm call, most often heard in the early mornings and evenings.

Similar species: in the northern South Island, the larger weka may overlap with banded rail, and throughout its range the much smaller marsh crake is also found in dense coastal rushes. Weka are 3-6 times larger, with much more subdued markings, lacking any black-and-white barring. The tiny marsh crake has no rufous eye-stripe, plain blue-grey from the cheeks to the lower breast, and black-and-white barring is confined to behind the legs.

Distribution and habitat

In the North Island, banded rail is restricted to mangroves and saltmarshes in the estuaries of Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty. In the South Island it is restricted to large saltmarshes in Nelson and Marlborough. It is common on Great Barrier Island in mangroves, saltmarshes, the dry edges of freshwater wetlands and rush-covered pasture. It is also found on the Three Kings Islands and weka-free islands off south-western Stewart Island (Pohowaitai and Kaimohu, reintroduced to Kundy) and Little Solander Island. Occasional records in North Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and Stewart Island probably reflect their ability to move large distances from breeding areas.

Population

About 80-90% of the New Zealand population is found around estuaries in the upper North Island, with probably another 200 birds in Nelson/Marlborough. Home range estimates range from 1.5ha/pair in Nelson saltmarshes to 4 hectare/pair in Northland mangroves.

Threats and conservation

Inland populations in the North and South Islands declined by the 1930s. In the Waikato, banded rail were commonly seen in the drier rush wetlands around Hamilton in the 1950s. Banded rail were recorded inland occasionally in the New Zealand Wildlife Service’s National Fauna Surveys in the 1970s e.g. Whangamarino wetland (Waikato) and Waitakere wetland (Auckland), but they were absent from these habitats by the 1980s, and are now absent inland. This period also coincided with extensive wetland drainage nationally and the failure of fitch-farming where there was widespread release of ferrets. Their current habitat on mustelid-free Great Barrier Island is in mangroves, salt and brackish marshes, drier freshwater wetlands and rough pasture. This probably reflects 19th century rail habitats on mainland New Zealand.

Banded rail (known locally as mioweka) became extinct on many muttonbird islands off Stewart Island (including Jacky Lee, Herekopare, Kundy, Solomon and Big South Cape) following releases of weka or cats, or invasion by ship rats. Mioweka were reintroduced to Kundy Island in 1999 following eradication of weka there. Macquarie Island rail was extirpated before 1890 following introduction of cats and weka. The conservation status of this species was changed from naturally uncommon to declining in 2013.

Breeding

Banded rail breed in spring and summer, constructing a rough platform of rush and reed fragments, usually in jointed rush thickets between 10 and 50 cm above ground or water. The 4-6 eggs are pale pinkish with dark blotches of brown and grey, and are incubated for 19-25 days. Graeme Elliott found in Nelson/Marlborough that 38 eggs in eight clutches produced 13 chicks that left the nest, with an average of 1.6 young per nest.

Behaviour and ecology

Banded rail are reluctant, but strong fliers that can travel considerable distances, mainly at night. They occasionally appear far from their normal breeding range; many of these observations are juveniles moving about in autumn. They typically stay in dense vegetation and forage no more than 6 metres from the vegetation edge. Rail have distinctive calls, but often don't respond to playback of taped calls.

In the northern North Island rails spend 75% of their time feeding under mangrove cover, moving into this habitat as soon as the tide recedes. The remaining time is spent being in rushes, tall grass and shrubland in the upper reaches of estuaries, when the tide is in. In Nelson/Marlborough they are limited to large areas of salt marshes in the upper tidal zone. They seldom venture into the open, and then mainly at dawn and dusk.

Food

Banded rails consume snails, crabs, insects, worms and spiders. They also feed on dead fish, seeds and fruit when available. They are suspected of piercing and consuming seabird eggs on muttonbird islands, but the behaviour has not been observed directly. Most feeding is in the morning and evening, and along the water's edge as the tide recedes.

Weblinks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buff-banded_Rail

http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/wetland-birds/9

References

Bellingham, M. 2012. Evidence to the Environment Court on appeal of Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Soc. vs Northland RC.

Botha, A. 2010. Foraging distances and habitat preference of banded rail in the Ohiwa Harbour. Bay of Plenty Regional Council Environmental Publication 2010/06, Whakatane. http://www.boprc.govt.nz/media/105670/2010_06_foraging_distances_and_habitat_preferences_of_banded_rail_in_the_ohiwa_harbour_april_2011_updated_17_may.pdf

Elliott, G. 1987. Habitat use by banded rail. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 10: 109-115

Elliott, G.P. 1989. The distribution of banded rails and marsh crakes in coastal Nelson and Marlborough. Notornis 36: 117-123

Haggitt, T.; Mead, S.; Bellingham, M. 2008. Review of environmental information on the Kaipara Harbour marine environment. Prepared by ASR/CASL for the Auckland Regional Council. Auckland Regional Council Technical Publication Number 354. 190 pp

Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 1996. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Viking, Auckland.

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1993. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2, raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne. ISBN 0-19-553069-1.

Miskelly, C.M.; Powlesland, R.G. 2013. Conservation translocations of New Zealand birds, 1863-2012. Notornis 60: 3-28.

Robertson, H. A.; Dowding, J. E.; Elliott, G. P.; Hitchmough, R. A.; Miskelly, C. M.; O’Donnell, C. F. J.; Powlesland, R. G.; Sagar, P. M.; Scofield, R. P.; Taylor, G. A. 2013. Conservation status of New Zealand birds, 2012. NZ Threat Classification Series 4. Department of Conservation. Wellington.

Oliver, W.R.B. 1955 New Zealand birds. 2nd edn. AH & AW Reed, Wellington.

Wilson, R.A. 1959. Bird islands of New Zealand. Whitcombe & Tombs, Christchurch.

Recommended citation

Bellingham M. 2013. Banded rail. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Banded rail

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun

Banded rail

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
ground-level platform
Nest description
Rough platform of rush and reed fragments, usually in jointed rush thickets, some bower making.
Nest height (min)
0.10 m
Nest height (max)
0.50 m
Maximum number of successful broods
Multi-brooded
Clutch size (mean)
4.75
Clutch size (min)
4
Clutch size (max)
6
Egg colour
Pale pinkish with scattered dark reddish-brown to pale purplish grey blotches
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
Unknown
Incubation length (mean)
19-25 days
Incubation length (min)
19days
Incubation length (max)
25days
Nestling type
precocial
Nestling period (mean)
24 hours
Age at fledging (mean)
About 60 days
Age at independence (mean)
Unknown
Age at first breeding (typical)
Unknown
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown