Monday, March 18, 2013

Rails & Crakes (Phylum Chordata: Order Gruiformes) of Singapore

Cranes, crakes, rails and their allies (phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, superclass Tetrapoda, class Aves, order Gruiformes) are generally ground dwelling birds with long legs and feet but short tails. While cranes are not recorded from Singapore (except the occasional free-ranging ones from the Zoo or Bird Park), a number of rails (family Rallidae) can be found in the country, and here are some of them:

White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)
The White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) is perhaps the most commonly seen gruiform species in Singapore. This bird is black or dark brown on the upperside, with a white face, neck and underside. It has a red undertail, and a red spot above its beak at the front of its head. It can often be seen near waterways and water bodies, and is usually very noisy. This species can grow to about 30cm long, and is sometimes trapped for food in the region. It is omnivorous, feeding on small fish, small invertebrates, seeds and shoots.

Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
The Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) is an uncommon resident bird. It can be recognised by its black body and brown back, with a red spot on its head above the beak. There are usually some white markings on its wings and tail. This species can get to about 35cm long, and is usually found near water bodies. It is omnivorous, feeding on water plant and small invertebrates.

Red-legged Crake (Rallina fasciata)
The Red-legged Crake (Rallina fasciata) is an uncommon resident. It has a reddish-brown head and neck, brown back with dark patches, a belly with black-and-white bars, and red legs. It can be found in wooded areas, especially in areas that are wetter or near streams. This species can grow to about 25cm long.

Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)
The Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) can be easily recognised by its purple plumage. It is a rare resident, and the photo above was taken in New Zealand. It can get to about 45cm, and is usually found in marshes and swamps. It is omnivorous, feeding on shoots and small animals (molluscs, fish and frogs etc)

Common Coot (Fulica atra)
The Common Coot (Fulica atra) is a very rare vagrant, easily recognised by its black plumage and white bill. It can get to over 35cm long, and is usually found near or in water bodies. It is omnivorous, feeding on water plants and small animals. The above photo was taken in Holland.

  • Briffett, C. 1986. A guide to the common birds of Singapore. Singapore Science Centre. 160 pp.
  • Robson, C. 2010. New Holland field guide to the birds of South-East Asia. London: New Holland Publishers. 304 pp.
  • Singapore Birds. Retrieved Mar 8, 2013,
  • Strange, M. 2000. Photographic guide to the birds of Southeast Asia. Singapore: Periplus. 398 pp.

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