Blue-faced rail (Gymnocrex rosenbergii)

Also known as: Bald-faced rail, Schlegel's rail
GenusGymnocrex (1)
SizeLength: 30 cm (2) (3)

The blue-faced rail is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A  rare, ground-dwelling bird known from just two islands in Indonesia (2), the blue-faced rail (Gymnocrex rosenbergii) is most easily distinguished by the patch of bright cobalt blue skin around the eyes (2). This blue is particularly prominent against the purplish-brown upperparts and black crown, tail and underparts (4) (5). Like all rails (those in the Rallidae family), the blue-faced rail has short wings, long legs, and its strong feet bear sharp claws (6). Male and female blue-faced rails are similar in appearance (2) (3).

The blue-faced rail may be heard making a ‘snoring’ sound and may also produce a quietly cluck when alarmed (2) (3).

The blue-faced rail lives on the island of Sulawesi and the nearby island of Peleng in Indonesia (3).

Although primarily an inhabitant of dense, wet lowland forest (7), the blue-faced rail also occurs in abandoned rice fields (2) (8). It is thought to prefer areas with a thick understory of small saplings, palms, rattans and bamboos, near forest streams and pools. It has been recorded at a range of altitudes, most commonly between 150 and 900 metres (3).

Like many other rails, the secretive behaviour and reclusive nature of the blue-faced rail means that sightings are rare (3) (9), and thus little information is available on its biology.

A largely ground-dwelling bird, the blue-faced rail is only able to fly for short distances (2) (3). It is thought to feed mainly on snails, beetles and other insects (2) (7). Breeding is suspected to take place around January and December (2) (7).

The small population of blue-faced rails is believed to be declining, placing this species at risk of extinction (4). The main cause of this decline is the destruction, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat (3). In the past two decades there has been a rapid loss of lowland forest in Sulawesi and Peleng, primarily as a result of agriculture (10).

Such destruction has frequently been the result of a growing human population. In Indonesia there has been a policy for many years to re-settle people from the large islands to less populated regions such as Sulawesi. These schemes often have very negative effects on the environment: forests are cleared for agriculture, new roads and housing developments, and there is often increased hunting and unsustainable slash-and-burn farming (10).

The blue-faced rail’s poor flying ability also makes it vulnerable to predators, such as dogs, and capture in snare traps (3) (4).

The blue-faced rail occurs in five protected areas: Borgani Nani Waterbone, Lore Lindu, Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Parks, Gunung Klabat and Pengunungan Palu (4), which will hopefully offer its habitat some protection. However, further efforts to conserve forest on Sulawesi and Peleng are needed to ensure the blue-faced rail’s survival. Recommended measures include promoting more efficient agricultural practices, to help reduce pressure on the remaining natural habitat, developing greater community participation in forest management and conservation, and cancelling logging concessions within existing or proposed protected areas (10).

Additionally, further studies of the blue-faced rail are needed to clarify its distribution, habitat preferences, ecology, and to understand more about the threats it faces (3) (4).

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This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Stattersfield, A. and Capper, D. (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Birdlife International, Cambridge, UK.
  4. BirdLife International (November, 2010)
  5. Evans, A.H. (1900) Birds. In: Harmer, S.F. and Shipley, A.E. (Eds.) The Cambridge Natural History. Macmillan and Co., London.
  6. Mobley, J.A. (2009) Birds of the World. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, Tarrytown, New York.
  7. BirdLife International (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  8. Sibley, C.G. and Monroe Jr, B.L. (1990) Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.
  9. Thomson, E.D. (1964) A New Dictionary of Birds. Nelson, London.
  10. BirdLife International (2003) Saving Asia's Threatened Birds: a Guide for Government and Civil Society. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK. Available at: