A tiny member of the Rallidae family, a group of ground-dwelling waterbirds comprising the rails, coots and crakes, Baillon’s crake is a small, plump bird with rounded wings and a short, conical-shaped bill (3)(4). Its upperparts are streaked with black and white, with barring on the rear, and the underparts are a pale grey that stretches from the breast to around the eyes. The bill and the legs are pale green (3). The male and female Baillon’s crake are similar in appearance, although the female often has a reddish-brown streak over the ear and paler grey upperparts, but the juvenile has a mottled-white breast and more extensive barring (2)(3). Like other members of the Rallidae family, this bird has stout, well-muscled legs with three forward-facing toes and one hind toe, which act to balance the bird as it walks with the head bobbing and the tail flicking (4).
A versatile omnivore, Baillon’s crake forages alone or in small flocks of up to ten birds on mud and in shallow water for a variety of insects, worms, small fish, plant material and seeds (2)(5). Food may be plucked from the surface or the bill may be fully immersed to catch aquatic prey (2). It is most active in the morning and in the late afternoon or evening, and rarely strays far from cover while foraging (2)(5).
Baillon’s crake breeds shortly after the wet season in solitary pairs (5). After courtship, in which the male uses calls of harsh rattles to attract a mate, monogamous pairs form and set about building a rather flimsy, cup-shaped or platform nest of vegetation close to the water on a grass tussock or in soft grass. A territory is fiercely defended around this nest, and 4 to 11 eggs are laid and incubated for around 16 to 20 days by both the male and female. The young chicks are capable of feeding themselves only a few days after hatching, but do not fledge until around 34 to 45 days of age. Sexual maturity is reached at around a year (2).
Baillon’s crake has a huge range across much of southern and eastern Europe, north, east and southern Africa, Asia and Australasia (5)(6). Populations in southern Africa and Australasia are mostly sedentary all year round, but elsewhere populations are largely migratory and breed at northern latitudes during the summer before travelling southwards ahead of the onset of winter (5).
Baillon’s crake is found in a wide variety of fresh and saltwater habitats in both inland and coastal areas, with a preference for shallow flooded areas (2)(5). Typical habitats include marshes, swamps, flooded meadows, the margins of open water, wet pasture, artificial wetlands and saltmarshes. While breeding, it is most often found amongst dense, tussocky vegetation such as reedbeds and tall grasses, but outside of the breeding season, it occupies a greater variety of habitats. Baillon’s crake occurs up to 1,500 metres above sea level across most of its range, but may be found at altitudes as high as 2,450 metres in New Guinea (2).
While Baillon’s crake is not currently thought to be threatened with extinction, it has a relatively small population and is vulnerable to the loss of its habitat. Across the species’ range, wetlands are being degraded through drainage, reed-cutting, burning and livestock overgrazing, as well as being converted to agriculture (2)(5). The breeding population in Europe is considered to be very small, estimated at less than 1,000 birds in 1994, and is therefore particularly vulnerable to such threats (7). Baillon’s crake is also threatened by collisions with powerlines whilst it is migrating (5).
In the absence of any known major threats to Baillon’s crake, it has not yet been the target of any specific conservation measures. However, due to the loss of habitat in parts of its range, several conservation recommendations have been made, including the maintenance of natural vegetation around fish ponds and rice fields, and monitoring water levels during nesting periods (5).
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