Ian’s Bird of the Week – Baillon’s Crake

Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) by Ian

Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Baillon’s Crake ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 6/27/11

My apologies for a belated bird of the week. This week’s bird is the subject of some excitement at the moment in local birding circles with the reporting of unusual numbers of Baillon’s Crake (thank you Len and Chris!) at a small wetland at Pentland about 240km southwest of Townsville. So, I and some friends spent the weekend there. to have a look for this elusive species, uncommon in this part of the country.

Baillon’s, with a length of 15-18cm/6-7in is the smallest member of its family (Rallidae) found in Australia and not much larger than a house sparrow. Members of this species are particularly secretive even by crake standards usually preferring to skulk in reed beds and other aquatic vegetation, but sometimes venture out into the open in dull weather to feed though rarely as freely in sunshine as the ones at Pentland, as in the first photo. This bird is probably a female as HBW (Handbook of Birds of the World, which like many ‘handbooks’ needs a crane to lift it) reports that females have a rufous patch behind the eye.
Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) by Ian

Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) by Ian

By that criterion, the bird on the lily pad in the second photo is a male with a completely grey cheek. It is also showing the long, rather jacana-like toes that enable it to walk over aquatic vegetation, both floating and submerged, though they will swim if necessary. They seemed reluctant to fly, but would do so to chase other birds that appeared to be encroaching on their patch.

Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) by Ian

Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) by Ian

The third photo shows a bird snatching an invertebrate, maybe a small spider, off a blade of grass and stretching out its neck to full extent to do so. They would also pluck prey from under the surface and I watched one that appeared to be eating a mollusc. The fourth photo shows one peering intently at the water but its debatable whether it’s looking for dinner or, Narcissus-like, admiring its reflection (even if it is a female) while its lily pad sinks unnoticed below the surface – Baillon’s Crakes weigh about 35 g, a little over an ounce.

Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) by Ian

Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) by Ian

I think the bird in the fifth photo is a juvenile. The iris is brownish rather than red, the legs and bill are browner than in the adults and the underparts are buffish white, rather than grey.

Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) by Ian

Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) by Ian

Although Crakes in general appear reluctant to fly, they can do so well and over long distances, probably at night. They move around according to the availability of water (the wetland at Pentland sometimes dries out completely) and there is some evidence that Baillon’s Crakes move north in winter in Australia. It also has a wide distribution throughout Eurasia and Africa and a summer visitor in Europe. A separate race is found in New Zealand, it has been recorded on Macquarie Island, and a closely related species, now extinct, used to occur on Laysan Island between Midway Islands and Hawaii.

Incidentally, the smallest member of the family is the Inaccessible Rail found on Inaccessible Island in the Tristan Da Cunha Group with a length of 13-15.5 cm. Furthermore it the smallest flightless bird in the world, but, not having therefore to worry about its waistline, it is, at 40 g, heaver than Baillon’s Crake.
Best wishes,

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: 0411 602 737 +61-411 602 737
Preferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au
Website: http://birdway.com.au

Lee’s Addition:

Baillons are part of the Rails, Crakes & Coots – Rallidae Family of the Gruiformes Order. The Crake is in the same family as our Purple Gallinules, Common Gallinules or Moorhens and the American Coots we see often. We have Rails (Black, Clapper, King, Virginia, and Yellow) and the Sora here in Florida, but I never seem to spot them. The birds here are much larger than Ian just described. Would love to see one of them.

The most typical family members occupy dense vegetation in damp environments near lakes, swamps, 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.

Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh? Can the reeds flourish without water? While it is yet green and not cut down, It withers before any other plant. So are the paths of all who forget God; (Job 8:11-13a NKJV)

See more of Ian’s Bird of the Week articles.
Family #46 – Rallidae


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