Marsh crake

Porzana pusilla (Pallas, 1776)

Order: Gruiformes

Family: Rallidae

New Zealand status: Native

Conservation status: Declining

Other names: Baillon's crake, koitareke, kotoreke

Geographical variation: At  least five subspecies: affinis in New Zealand, palustris in Australia and Papua New Guinea, mira  in Borneo, pusilla through the Palearctic to Asia and intermedia in Africa.

Marsh crake. Adult. Motueka Sandspit, March 2016. Image © Craig Martin by Craig Martin

Marsh crake. Adult. Motueka Sandspit, March 2016. Image © Craig Martin by Craig Martin

The marsh crake is one of the most secretive New Zealand birds, largely because it inhabits dense wetland vegetation, rarely ventures into the open and usually only calls at dawn or dusk and through the night. These small rails are half the size of the common blackbird but have spectacular plumage. They appear stout or dumpy because of their short tail and relatively long legs for their body size. The upper parts are rich chestnut-brown with flecks of black and white, the under parts are grey with black-and-white bars towards the flanks, the eye is bright red, the beak green and the legs olive. Very little is known of their ecology.

Identification

Marsh crakes are small water birds that are rarely seen. The crown, upper parts and wings are rich chestnut-brown with flecks and streaks of black and white. The face and under parts are grey with black-and-white bars towards the flanks and vent. The eye is bright red, the bill green and the legs olive or yellowish-olive.Both sexes have similar plumage although the female is said to be duller. Juveniles are similar but have buff-brown instead of grey underparts.

Voice: the marsh crake’s territorial and courtship calls can make them conspicuous in spring, but they generally only call at night. They have a range of calls including: kreeek, trrrrrrr (combing), krakrakra-gagaga.. and krehehehe.

Similar species: banded rail is much larger, has a rufous eye-stripe, an orange-buff band across the breast, and the black-and-white barring extends on to the breast (cf. confined to behind the legs in marsh crake). Australian crake (a rare vagrant to New Zealand) is larger, has more white spots on the back, and has a white undertail.

Distribution and habitat

Baillon’s crake, of which the New Zealand marsh crake is a subspecies, occurs throughout Europe and Asia, Africa, New Guinea, Borneo, Australia and New Zealand. In New Zealand, marsh crakes have been recorded throughout the country but the majority of records are in the South Island where they appear to be more numerous. They have been recorded in a wide variety of inland and coastal wetland types, particularly Carex secta and raupo (Typha orientalis) swamps. Also recorded from estuarine reed beds and sometime wet but modified pasture and willow-woodlands.

Population

Unknown.

Threats and conservation

Although marsh crakes are still widespread, they are threatened by habitat loss (c. 90% of wetlands have been drained and some drainage continues) and predation by introduced mammals such as cats, stoats and dogs.

Breeding         

Marsh crake breeding ecology in New Zealand is poorly known. Aerial courtship flights occur at night. Nesting occurs between September and December. The nest is generally concealed under sedges or in dense reeds. The female lays 5-7 olive-brown eggs. Both sexes incubate and incubation takes 16-20 days. Chicks are covered with black down when they hatch.

Behaviour and ecology

Little is known. They are very secretive and most conspicuous from their calls at night in spring and early summer. Marsh crakes may migrate locally, as other subspecies do overseas.

Food

Marsh crakes primarily feed on invertebrates and seeds of aquatic plants.

Weblinks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baillon's_Crake

http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/native-animals/birds/wetland-birds/marsh-crake-koitareke/

http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=2901

http://www.avibirds.com/html/Baillons_Crake.html

http://www.arkive.org/baillons-crake/porzana-pusilla/#src=portletV3api

References

Ausseil, A.-G.E.; Chadderton, W.L.; Gerbeaux, P.; Stephens, R.T.T.; Leathwick, J.R. 2011. Applying systematic conservation planning principles to palustrine and inland saline wetlands of New Zealand. Freshwater Biology 56: 142-161.

Hamilton, A. 1885. A list of the native birds of the Petane District, Hawke's Bay, with notes and observations. Transactions of the New Zealand Institute 18: 123–128.

Kaufmann, G.; Lavers, R. 1987. Observations of breeding behaviour of spotless crake (Porzana tabuensis) and marsh crake (P. pusilla) at Pukepuke Lagoon. Notornis 34: 193-205.

Kaufmann, G.W. 1987. Swamp habitat use by spotless crakes and marsh crakes at Pukepuke Lagoon. Notornis 34: 207-216.

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. 1993. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2, raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

O’Donnell, C.F.J.; Clapperton, B.K.; Monks, J.M. 2015. The impacts of introduced mammalian predators on indigenous birds of freshwater wetlands in New Zealand: a review. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 39: 19-33.

Robertson, H.A; Baird, K.; Dowding, J.E.; Elliott, G.P.; Hitchmough, R.A.; Miskelly, C.M.; McArthur, N.; O’Donnell, C.F.J.; Sagar, P.M.; Scofield, R.P.; Taylor, G.A. 2017. Conservation status of New Zealand birds, 2016. New Zealand Threat Classification Series 19. Wellington, Department of Conservation. 27p.

Recommended citation

O’Donnell, C.F.J. 2013 [updated 2017]. Marsh crake. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Marsh crake

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

Marsh crake

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
woven cup
Nest description
Usually a cup woven of grasses concealed at the base of sedges or reeds in water.
Maximum number of successful broods
Unknown
Clutch size (mean)
5.9
Clutch size (min)
4
Clutch size (max)
7
Mean egg dimensions (length)
27.80 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
19.60 mm
Egg colour
Olive brown or dark olive brown sometimes with small flecks
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
24 hours
Incubation behaviour
shared
Incubation length (mean)
16-20 days
Incubation length (min)
16days
Incubation length (max)
20days
Nestling type
precocial
Nestling period (mean)
Unknown
Age at fledging (mean)
Unknown
Age at independence (mean)
Unknown
Age at first breeding (typical)
Unknown
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown

Baillon's crake

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
woven cup
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Incubation behaviour
shared