The Black Crake, also known as Amaurornis flavirostra and South African Rail, is a bird species categorized in the Rallidae family. This large family of bird species is commonly found in wetlands, although most bird species are found in every terrestrial habitat except deserts and polar regions. The Black Crake’s closest relatives include the Wake Island Rail, American Purple Gallinule, Guam Rail, and Dusky Moorhen.
This bird species occurs in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa except intensely tropical habitats.
The total Black Crake population size estimates around a million individuals across the African continent. Since its population is mostly distributed through sub-Saharan Africa and is on a stable rise, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List listed the Black Crake as Least Concern.
Its ten levels of scientific classification are as follows:
Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Chordata
Class – Aves
Subclass – Neornithes
Infraclass – Neognathae
Superorder – Neoaves
Order – Gruiformes
Family – Rallidae
Genus – Amaurornis
Species -Amaurornis Flavirostra
The physical characteristics of a Black Crake
With its black plumage, red legs, and greenish-yellow bill, the Black Crake is unmistakable and conspicuous. An adult Black Crake can grow from 19 to 23 cm and weigh between 69 and 118 grams. It has washed olive-chestnut upperparts. Those Black Crakes that live in the wild have slaty-black upperpart. The eyes are color red, just like the color of its narrow eye-ring. The legs and webbed feet are red as well.
Both male and female adult Black Crakes look the same. On the other hand, a juvenile has brown plumage, black bill, grey eyes, and greyish legs and feet. The colors brighten as the juvenile age.
The distribution and habitat of Black Crakes
Black Crakes are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, but they do not breed in deserts and extremely arid areas in South West and North East Africa. This bird species commonly frequents wetlands and freshwater habitats such as marshes in open areas, especially those with vegetation that allows them to take shelter, nest, and roost. They also take refuge in reservoirs, lakes, seasonal pans, ponds, and flooded areas, preferably those with small grass, reed beds, bushes, papyrus, and the like. They can also be found in tropical moist forests, flooded grasslands, and tropical savannahs.
These birds are highly adaptable, which can live in drier areas as long as there are water bodies nearby. Black Crakes are also seen living near human habitations, feeding in open spaces.
The behavior of Black Crakes
A Black Crake feeds during the daytime, usually after rainfall, where it forages in short grass, dry ground, mud, dead plants, and fallen leaves to search for invertebrates. The Rail family is usually secretive, but a Black Crate gets out in open areas, walking on floating vegetation using their strong, webbed feet for balance. It has a very distinct, throaty call that sounds like “krrrok-kraaa,” which will be responded by another bird with a coo, “coo-crr-coo.” After this reply, other Black Crakes will join, all crouched in a circle, and call in duets.
Breeding and mating habits of Black Crakes
This bird species is monogamous—male and female Black Crakes will form a pairing that lasts for at least one breeding season. Black Crakes are highly territorial and aggressive during the breeding season. The marking of a breeding ground is often paired with loud calls. When other birds attempt to intrude on their territories, they will attack the intruders, especially other rails, and even kill them if they are too persistent.
The breeding season happens the whole year, peaking during the rainy season. The courtship display is characterized by feeding, preening each other, wing movements, and bowing.
Black Crakes usually build nests in vegetation that floats on water. They make their nests in bushes and on the ground as well. Sometimes, they build their nests in a 9.8 ft high bush.
The female Black Crake will then lay an average of three eggs. Both parents take responsibility for incubating the eggs for 13-18 days. After the eggs have hatched, the parents will feed their chicks for 3-6 weeks. After this period, the chicks will learn how to fly, but they stay with their family until the next breeding season when chicks can finally live independently.
The diet of Black Crakes
This bird species is omnivores, feeding on vertebrates found underwater and invertebrates, including worms, mollusks, and crustaceans. They also feed on small fish, frogs, eggs of other birds, seeds, and carcasses of birds, crabs, and fish.
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