Slaty-breasted Rail feeding on a crab

“Was up north near the Thai border to present a paper at a national conference. On the way back out of town, my regular taxi driver Chin Yoon Loi made sure I took in some bird watching. It was already around 11 am and I was not optimistic. But Chin, who has been driving me to meetings for years (occasionally with my camera), has developed a flair for bird watching as well (he has even bought my book on local birds).

“This region up north is a rice farming area. We got off the main road to watch some egrets in a recently ploughed, muddy padi (rice) field.

“We then spotted our reward, a Slaty-breasted Rail (Gallirallus striatus) feeding on a crab in the middle of a field in the noon day sun (11.45 am). It usually is seen at dawn or dusk near tall grass, so to see it at noon in the middle of an open field was a little unusual.

“The food and foraging behaviour of this bird is not well known locally (Wells DR 1999). Morten Strange (A Photographic guide to Birds of Malaysia & Singapore, 2000) says it feeds on insects and seeds. One post quotes earthworms feed to young LINK.

“We watched from the car and tried to inch nearer. The bird was aware of us but the ‘prize’ in its catch kept it there. It pecked at the crab aggressively, picked it up and tossed it down, until it was able to pries open sections to get at the flesh.

“I took a short video of feeding, see below. (Sorry for the audio, my excitement and desire to show Chin the bird).

“After sometime I decided to try and get closer on foot but it ran off but carrying its prey securely in its grasp. I almost got the impression it was afraid we would steal it!

“Some images of the experience in the posts.”

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS & Chin Yoon Loi
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
20th October 2011

Location: Outskirts of Kangar, Perlis, Malaysia
Habitat: Recently ploughed padi (rice) field

3 Responses

  1. Gretchen

    Interesting observation. I guess that the rail found the dead crab, or do you think that it would have killed it? (Also I don’t know if that crab was likely to have been living in the paddy or not.)

    • Amar-Singh HSS (Dato’ Dr)

      Dear Gretchen,
      thank you for taking the time to read this post and make comments. To answer your queries:

      1. Fresh water crabs are well known in padi (rice) fields. See:
      a. Peter K.L. Ng and H.P. Ng, The freshwater crabs of Pulau Langkawi, Peninsular Malaysia. Malaysian J. Sci. 9: 1-15 (1987) (Department of Zoology, National University of Singapore, Kent Ridge Campus, Republic of Singapore)
      b. TRAPPING CRABS IN KEDAH PADI FIELDS. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 2 February 1932, Page 1
      c. A recent comment:

      2. So the crab did come from the field. As to the ability of the Slaty-breasted Rail to kill a crab, I would not put it past the bird. After having watched bird for almost 4 decades I am no longer surprised with the range of diet and ingenuity to acquire/kill prey. Little is know about the diet of this bird and I expect the crabs would occasional be on the menu. It could have pilfered the prey from another animal (kleptoparasitism) or got it itself.


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