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Water Rail Rallus aquaticus

This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: _the_WP15.xls.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Dowsett, R. J.; Forbes-Watson, A. D. 1993. Checklist of birds of the Afrotropical and Malagasy regions. Tauraco Press, Li
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Taxonomic note

Rallus aquaticus and R. indicus (del Hoyo et al. 2013) were previously lumped as R. aquaticus following Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993).

Trend justification
The overall population trend is decreasing, although some populations have unknown trends (Wetlands International 2006).

Behaviour Western and southern populations of this species are mainly sedentary (Snow and Perrins 1998), whereas others are fully migratory, moving overland on a broad front between breeding and wintering grounds (del Hoyo et al. 1996). After mild winters the spring migration begins in late-February, otherwise it occurs from March to mid-April (Snow and Perrins 1998) or May (del Hoyo et al. 1996). In Europe and Russia the autumn migration occurs from August to December (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). The species breeds in single pairs or small family groups (Snow and Perrins 1998) although large concentrations of breeding birds may occurring in extensive wetlands, with nests 20-50 m apart where population densities are high (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). After breeding the species may pause on passage in favourable habitats between early-July and early-September (Taylor and van Perlo 1998) to undergo a flightless wing-moult (Snow and Perrins 1998) that may last for c.3 weeks (Taylor and van Perlo 1998, Snow and Perrins 1998). Outside of the breeding season the species remains solitary (Taylor and van Perlo 1998, Snow and Perrins 1998), but may occasionally congregate into small groups of up to 30 individuals during the winter (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). The species regularly uses well-defined paths between favoured food sources within its habitat (Snow and Perrins 1998). Habitat The species requires muddy ground for foraging (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and shows a preference for shallow still or slow-flowing water (del Hoyo et al. 1996) 5-30 cm deep (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), surrounded by dense riparian, emergent, submergent or aquatic vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding It breeds in reedbeds and other emergent vegetation in fresh and saline swamps, fens and marshes (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998) and at the fringes of open fresh or saline lakes (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998). Other habitats include clay pits, gravel pits, peat excavations (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), river oxbows and channels, damp meadows and rice paddy-fields (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Rather than occupying large uniform wet areas in larger habitats, the species shows a preference for wetlands that form a mosaic with drier patches and areas of trees (e.g. willow Salix spp. [Taylor and van Perlo 1998]) or other fringing scrub (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). Non-breeding On migration and in the winter the species frequents riverbanks (Urban et al. 1986), canals (Urban et al. 1986), gravel pits (del Hoyo et al. 1996), farm sewage outfalls (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998), marshy areas (Iceland) (del Hoyo et al. 1996), bracken on islands (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998), flooded blackberry Rubus spp. thickets (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998) and other very small wetland patches (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Diet The species is omnivorous, its diet consisting predominantly of animal matter (Snow and Perrins 1998) such as worms, leeches, molluscs, shrimps, crayfish, spiders, terrestrial and aquatic insects and larvae, amphibians (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998) (e.g. frogs, toads and newts) (Taylor and van Perlo 1998), fish, birds and mammals (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It also takes plant matter (especially during the autumn and winter) including shoots, roots, seeds, berries and fruits (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding site The nest is a substantial cup of vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998) that is usually positioned in thick stands of reeds or rushes on the ground in or near water, or rarely on a tree stump or in the open (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998). Nests placed in water are built up if the water level rises (Urban et al. 1986).

The species is vulnerable to severe conditions (e.g. ice or severe floods) (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Taylor and van Perlo 1998).

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Snow, D. W.; Perrins, C. M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic vol. 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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

Urban, E. K.; Fry, C. H.; Keith, S. 1986. The birds of Africa vol. II. Academic Press, London.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S., Malpas, L.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Rallus aquaticus. Downloaded from on 11/07/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 11/07/2014.

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.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Water rail (Rallus aquaticus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Rallidae (Rails, crakes and allies)
Species name author Linnaeus, 1758
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 8,980,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species