Slaty-Breasted Rail Behaviour

“Rails are secretive birds that like to live under cover of dense vegetation. The Slaty-Breasted Rail (Gallirallus striatus), a common resident, is no exception – spending most of its time staying hidden in dense shrubs and tall grasses. I was fortunate to have a brief encounter with a Slaty-Breasted Rail that came out of hiding and allowed itself to be observed for a brief period.

“This rail was first observed picking up a mollusc, which it washed in a shallow pool of rain water that was ponding on the track. It washed the mollusc repeatedly, dropping the shellfish a few times before picking it up again to continue washing (above). Though I did not see it actually swallowing the shell, it probably did as it was next seen drinking water from the pool. Realising that it was being watched, it turned away, but turned back its head to look towards my direction before walking calmly into the dense undergrowth. Trying my luck, I moved a little nearer and waited motionless behind a small patch of bushes. A few minutes later, I was rewarded when the rail reappeared to continue drinking from the pool (below).

“What happened next was rather strange. The rail made a sudden flap of its wings and darted a short distance away (below left). It then stopped abruptly and kept completely still. It seemed to be observing and waiting for something to happen. I kept absolutely still despite being tickled by the prickly bush that was brushing against me. I was sure that this rail was aware of my presence as I was only partially hidden. Was it waiting for a reaction from me? Was it testing to see whether I will move if it did? Another reason that I could think of is that it could be trying to flush out a hidden prey with its abrupt action. The behaviour was repeated at least twice (above right) with the last time being more pronounced – the bird was lifted slightly above ground and running a longer distance. After pausing, it ruffled its feathers before walking nonchalantly into the bushes to disappear for good.

“A friendly juvenile Slaty-Breasted Rail was also encountered in the same location about two months before this encounter. Do note the blackish streaks along the juvenile’s back (below). Now, take a look at the back of the rail in this encounter. Judging from the blackish streaks, this ‘adult’ rail was probably an immature or sub-adult. It will be interesting to know whether two months is sufficient time for a juvenile to grow into a sub-adult. I have a gut feeling that the two rails encountered were possibly the same bird.”

Kwong Wai Chong
28th September 2012

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