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Drummer Rail Habroptila wallacii
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This enigmatic flightless rail is classified as Vulnerable because it has a small population, which is likely to be declining and undergoing fragmentation owing to the on-going loss of its specialised habitat. However, it is poorly known, and further surveys may reveal it to be more numerous and occur in a wider range of habitats than current information suggests.

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.

40 cm. Large, secretive, flightless rail. Very dark slate-grey throughout with browner wings, lower back and tail. Bright red bare parts, including eye-ring and frontal shield. Long and robust bill. Similar spp. Plain Bush-hen Amaurornis olivaceus is smaller, with shorter yellow bill and legs. Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio (recently discovered on Halmahera) is much larger and bluer, with shorter, thicker bill and conspicuous white undertail-coverts. Voice Low drumming interspersed with loud scream.

Distribution and population
Habroptila wallacii is endemic to the island of Halmahera in North Maluku, Indonesia (BirdLife International 2001), where it is known from only a handful of specimens and confirmed records, with the most recent report from 2003 (E. Emanuelson in litt. 2003). Its status is extremely difficult to judge given its skulking behaviour and unwelcoming habitat, and the paucity of records might reflect these factors rather than any genuine scarcity. However, there is danger in assuming this without acknowledging the possibility that the loss of Sago swamps and predation have had a serious impact in recent decades.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
The species is suspected to be in decline owing to the loss of its habitat through commercial sago harvesting, as well as the potential impacts of alien predators and hunting.

It is a flightless, and thus presumably strictly sedentary species, thought to inhabit dense, impenetrable, swampy thickets, particularly remote parts of sago swamp, apparently also favouring swamp edges at the interface with deciduous foothill-forest, although not penetrating the latter. Calls attributed (perhaps erroneously) to this species were heard in tall reeds (Saccharum sp.), alang-alang grassland (Imperata sp.), overgrown native plantations, sweet potato and cassava fields adjacent to forest and stream habitats (E. Emanuelson in litt. 2003), and mangrove (Gymnorhiza sp.).

Habitat loss and fragmentation is probably the main threat, and it has possibly declined considerably given that sago swamps on Halmahera have been extensively destroyed through commercial sago extraction, irrigation schemes, conversion for wet rice and, potentially, fishpond development. Moreover, flightless rails confined to single islands have a long history of extinction through predation by introduced species. Indeed, the species is apparently occasionally caught by dogs when local people are hunting deer and pigs.

Conservation Actions Underway
None is known. A large protected area is proposed for Halmahera, encompassing 3,550 km2 of all representative forest-types on the island, between Lalobata and Ake Tajawe, although it is not clear whether this includes suitable habitat or known localities for H. wallacii. Extensive effort has gone in to interviewing local people about the species and its possible whereabouts, without any confirmed records to date (M. Poulsen in litt. 2007). Conservation Actions Proposed
Identify all remaining areas of sago swamp and conduct surveys for this species therein (using tape-playback of its vocalisations, if available, to aid detection). Investigate claims that it frequents a variety of other habitats. Determine and implement appropriate conservation action, including establishment of any remnant sago swamps, or other key sites, as strictly protected areas.

BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

View photos and videos and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Davidson, P., Taylor, J., Tobias, J.

Emanuelson, E., Poulsen, M.

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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Habroptila wallacii. 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 Gray, 1860
Population size 2500-9999 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 18,200 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species