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Rails and Crakes
Purple Swamphen
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae

The family Rallidae is a large group of small to medium-sized birds which includes the rails, crakes, coots, and gallinules. Nearly all members are terrestrial and most are associated with wetlands. There are exceptions, however, notably the Corncrake which breeds on farmland.

The most typical family members occupy dense vegetation in damp environments near lakes, swamps, or rivers. Reedbeds 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, difficult to observe.

Most species walk and run vigourously on strong legs, and have long toes which are well adapted to soft, uneven surfaces. They tend to have short, rounded wings and be weak fliers, although nevertheless capable of covering long distances— the Woodcock, for example, has colonised remote islands in the Pacific. Island species often become flightless, and many of them are now extinct following the introduction of terrestrial predators such as cats, rats and pigs. Particularly when the extinct species are counted,

Many reed bed species are secretive, apart from loud calls, and crepuscular, and have laterally flattened bodies. In the Old World, long billed species tend to be called “rails” and short billed species “crakes”. American species are normally called rails irrespective of bill length.

The larger species are also sometimes given other names. The black coots are more open water than their relatives, and some other large species are called gallinules.


The family Rallidae has traditionally been grouped with two families of larger birds, the craness and bustards to make up the order Gruiformes. The alternative Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, which has been widely accepted in America, raises the family to ordinal level as the Ralliformes.

The relationships with similar groups are shown below:

Eurasian Coot

See Also