Spotted crake (Porzana porzana)

French: Marouette ponctuée
GenusPorzana (1)
SizeLength: 22 - 24 cm (2)
Wingspan: 37 - 42 cm (2)
Weight57 - 147 g (2)

The spotted crake is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The spotted crake (Porzana porzana) is a small and rather plump member of the rail family (Family: Rallidae). This water bird has a short, straight bill which is yellow in colour with a greenish tip and an orange-red spot. It has green legs and buff under-tail coverts. Its upperparts, including its head, are mainly brown and marked with dark barring and white spots (2).

Both sexes are similar in appearance, although the female spotted crake has less grey and more spots than the male. The spotted crake has an extensive vocal repertoire ranging from a quiet ‘hui’ to, when alarmed, a hard ‘eh’ and a ‘tshick’ used for warning (2).

During the breeding season, adult spotted crake exhibit a greyer breast (2). They are rarely seen at this time but can be distinguished by advertising calls which carry for up to two kilometres (2) (3). In displays of defence and courtship, the male makes a short, sharp, ascending whistle-like noise, repeated every second for several minutes from dusk and into the night. The female call is softer and often made in duet (2).

The immature spotted crake is similar in appearance to non-breeding adult, but has more spots on the side of the head and also an olive green bill with an orange base (2).

The spotted crake breeds throughout Europe from southern Scandinavia to the northern Mediterranean, also reaching central and western Asia (2). The species winters along the eastern spine of the African continent, as far down as South Africa (4).

The spotted crake breeds in wetlands, preferring shallow freshwater areas with dense grass, sedges and rushes. The spotted crake will also inhabit damp meadows, ditches, seasonally flooded pans and slow-flowing rivers (2) (5) (6).

An omnivorous species (7), the diet of the spotted crake consists of aquatic invertebrates, small fish (2), algae and various grasses. When foraging, it probes shallow water with its bill, often immersing its head (5).

The spotted crake forages during the day and roosts at night among thick vegetation (2), although it will reverse this pattern during migration when, despite being territorial throughout the year, small groups come together to forage in the dark (5) (7).

This species is migratory, dispersing to its wintering grounds around mid-July and reoccupying breeding habitat across Europe from April. During August, immature spotted crake often stop on migration to moult, rendering them flightless for about three weeks (2).

Breeding pairs of spotted crake are monogamous, but only for the duration of the breeding season. The nest is built near water among thick vegetation or in a tussock. Eggs are laid by the female spotted crake in clutches of 8 to 12, and hatch after around 18 days. The black, downy chicks become self-feeding after a few days, and are only cared for by the adults until all eggs in a brood have hatched. Fledging occurs after about 50 days (2) (8).

The spotted crake is not considered to be globally threatened despite a decline in numbers throughout Europe over the past century (2) (5). Drainage and destruction of wetland in Europe and Africa are the main threats to the future of the spotted crake, in addition to water level changes as a result of climate change (5).

The spotted crake has not yet been targeted by any specific conservation measures (5). However, the species likely benefits from the Wings Over Wetlands project, which aims to protect migratory waterbirds, their migration routes and their habitats. Wings Over Wetlands contributes to wetland restoration and water level monitoring by supporting field projects in various wetlands across the world (9).

Find out more about the spotted crake and its conservation:

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 (September, 2011)
  2. del Hoyo et. al. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Oiseaux Birds (September, 2011)
  4. UNEP-WCMC Critical Site Network Tool (September, 2011)
  5. BirdLife International (September, 2011)
  6. Gilbert, G. (2002) The status and habitat of spotted crakes, Porzana porzana, in Britain in 1999. Bird Study, 49(1): 79-86.
  7. Hutchins, M. et. al. (2002) Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Volumes 8-11, Birds I-IV. Gale Group, Michigan.
  8. BTOWeb (September, 2011)
  9. Wings Over Wetlands (September, 2011)