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Rallus caerulescens (African rail) 

Grootriethaan [Afrikaans]; isiZinzi (also applied to Baillon's crake) [Zulu]; Sipika [Kwangali]; Mopaka-paka [South Sotho]; Nhapata (generic name for coot, gallinule, moorhen, crake or rail) [Shona]; Nwatsekutseku [Tsonga]; Afrikaanse waterral [Dutch]; Râle bleuâtre [French]; Kapralle [German]; Frango-d'água-africano [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Gruiformes > Family: Rallidae

Rallus caerulescens (African rail)  Rallus caerulescens (African rail) 

African rail. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

African rail, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. [photo Alan Manson ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from Ethiopia south through Uganda, Kenya, southern DRC, Tanzania, eastern Angola and Zambia to southern Africa. Here it is uncommon to locally common in the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), northern Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique and patches of South Africa, largely excluding the Northern Cape, Free State and Eastern Cape. It generally prefers reedbeds and other dense vegetation along the edges of swamps, streams and marshes, sometimes moving to paddy fields and seasonally wet sugar cane fields next to marshes.

Distribution of African rail in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  





Recorded by N. Robson, [© Transvaal Museum]


Predators and parasites

Movements and migrations

Resident and largely sedentary, although it may make local movements in response to environmental conditions.


Mainly eats insects, earthworms, spiders, small frogs, small fish and plant matter such as seeds, doing most of its foraging in mud or shallow water along the edges of reedbeds, probing in search of prey.


  • Monogamous, solitary nester, establishing a territory at the onset of the breeding season in July and June by fighting with other pairs.
  • The nest is a shallow saucer of leaves, sedge stems, Bulrushes (Typha capensis) and grasses, typically concealed within or between grass or sedge tufts.
  • Egg-laying season is from July-May, peaking from September-February.
  • It lays 2-6 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 20 days.
  • The chicks leave the nest soon after hatching, becoming fully independent when they fledge at 42-56 days old.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.