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Galapagos Rail Laterallus spilonota
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This species is restricted to a small range on just a few islands. It is declining owing to the ongoing effects of introduced plants, herbivores and predators, and the continuing destruction and degradation of habitat. These factors qualify it as Vulnerable.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #

Taxonomic note
Laterallus spilonota (del Hoyo and Collar 2014) was previously listed as L. spilonotus.

Laterallus spilonotus

15-16 cm. Small, dark rail. Dark grey-black head, neck and breast. Brown upperparts with small white spots (when breeding). Dark grey-brown underparts with barred black-and-white undertail. Brown legs, black bill, red eye. Female similar but possibly paler throat. Similar spp. Paint-billed Crake Neocrex erythrops is larger, barred on flanks, lacks white spotting and has red legs and green-and-red bill. Voice Variable. Territorial call, fast chi-chi-chi-chirroo descending on the last note, also descending trill and various rattles, squeaks, hisses, cackles and warbles.

Distribution and population
Laterallus spilonota is endemic to the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, where it occurs on a number of islands including Pinta, Fernandina, Isabela (on Sierra Negra, Wolf, Darwin, Alcedo volcanos), Santiago, Santa Cruz, Floreana, and San Cristóbal. It is considered common in the highlands of Santiago, Santa Cruz and Sierra Negra (south Isabela) and smaller though stable or increasing populations occur on Wolf, Darwin, and Alcedo volcanos and on Fernandina (J. Gibbs in litt. 2007). The Pinta population is recovering after goat eradication. The small population on Floreana is certainly declining, and recent survey work on Santa Cruz suggests a slight population decline since baseline surveys in 1986-1987 (Gibbs et al. 2003). The population on San Cristóbal is probably extinct (H. Vargas and F. Cruz in litt. 2000).

Population justification
The population was estimated to number 5,000-10,000 individuals by Rosenberg (1990), and repeat surveys on Santa Cruz Island in 2000 gave broadly similar results. This roughly equates to 3,300-6,700 mature individuals.

Trend justification
A slow and on-going population decline is suspected, as extrapolated from c.9% decline in rail detections (c.f. 1986-1987 surveys) during 2000 surveys on Santa Cruz (Gibbs et al. 2003).

It inhabits grass and forest of mesic regions in the highlands, where it occurs in deep thickets and dense ground-cover (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), although it is rarely found in mangroves (Wiedenfeld 2006). It appears to favour areas with freshwater pools, and avoids short, herbaceous vegetation (Rosenberg 1990). Although historically known from coastal mangroves, it has largely abandoned this habitat for unknown reasons (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). It appears tolerant of human-modified habitats, such as agricultural land, but avoids grazed, short-grass meadows (Rosenberg 1990). It feeds mainly on invertebrates and seeds (Franklin et al. 1979, Harris 1982).

This species is probably vulnerable to introduced predators such as rats (predation on nests and fledglings potentially the biggest threat, D. Wiedenfeld in litt. 2012), cats, dogs and pigs, given its weak flying ability. Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus and Barn Owl Tyto alba may be natural predators (Rosenberg 1990, Taylor and van Perlo 1998). Habitat destruction as a result of grazing by introduced herbivores (notably goats, cattle and horses) is probably the principal explanation for its rarity on San Cristóbal and Floreana (Rosenberg 1990, H. Vargas and F. Cruz in litt. 2000). If populations on San Cristóbal and Floreana remain small, local extinction is likely owing to natural disturbances, inbreeding and population changes of predators and herbivores (Rosenberg 1990, H. Vargas and F. Cruz in litt. 2000). The invasion of the highlands of Santa Cruz by exotic Cinchona may lead to a reduction in the fern and sedge vegetation types it favours (Gibbs et al. 2003).

Conservation Actions Underway
Most of the archipelago is under national park protection, including much of the species's remaining natural habitat. Localised control of introduced predators is ongoing (Taylor and van Perlo 1998) and UNDP 'Galapagos Invasive Species' project taking place 2001-2007. Goats have been eradicated from Pinta, north Isabela and Santiago, and on Santiago a programme to eradicate pigs has been successfully completed (H. Vargas and F. Cruz in litt. 2000, Cruz et al. 2005). The islands were declared a World Heritage Site in 1979. Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct standardised surveys on all range islands to assess the total population size. Monitor population trends through regular surveys. Study the impacts of predation and habitat degradation by alien species. Restrict movement of domestic animals on Floreana (Rosenberg 1990). Acquire plateau areas on San Cristóbal, and exclude herbivores from these areas (Rosenberg 1990). Restore plant communities on Santiago and north Isabela (Rosenberg 1990, A. Tye in litt. 2000). Monitor the expansion of invasive Cinchona in the highlands of Santa Cruz, and investigate its impact on the species (Gibbs et al. 2003). Investigate threats posed by rats and cats on Santa Cruz Island (D. Wiedenfeld in litt. 2012).

Cruz, F.; Donlan, C. J.; Campbell, K.; Carrion, V. 2005. Conservation action in the Galapagos: feral pig (Sus scrofa) eradication from Santiago Island. Biological Conservation 121: 473-478.

Franklin, A. B. 1979. Ecology and behaviour of the Galápagos Rail. Wilson Bulletin 91: 202-221.

Gibbs, J. P.; Shriver, W. G.; Vargas, H. 2003. An assessment of a Galapagos Rail population over thirteen years (1986 to 2000). Journal of Field Ornithology 74: 136-140.

Harris, M. P. 1982. A field guide to the birds of Galápagos. Collins, London.

IUCN. 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2012.1). Available at: (Accessed: 19 June 2012).

Rosenberg, D. K. 1990. The impact of introduced herbivores on the Galápagos Rail (Laterallus spilonotus). Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 32: 169-178.

Taylor, B. 1998. Rails: a guide to the rails, crakes, gallinules and coots of the world. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, UK.

Wiedenfeld, D. A. 2006. Aves, the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. Check List 2: 1-27.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Mahood, S., McClellan, R., Pople, R., Sharpe, C J, Symes, A. & Temple, H.

Cruz, F., Gibbs, J., Tye, A., Vargas, H. & Wiedenfeld, D.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Laterallus spilonota. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, Coots)
Species name author (Gould, 1841)
Population size 3300-6700 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) -
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species