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Sarothrura elegans (Buff-spotted flufftail) 

Gevlekte vleikuiken [Afrikaans]; Bruinvlekral [Dutch]; Râle ponctué [French]; Schmuckzwergralle [German]; Frango-d'água-elegante [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

Sarothrura elegans (Buff-spotted flufftail)  Sarothrura elegans (Buff-spotted flufftail) 
Buff-spotted flufftail male. [photo Hugh Chittenden ©] Buff-spotted flufftail female at nest. [photo Hugh Chittenden ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in patches of sub-Saharan Africa, from Guinea to Ethiopia south to southern Africa, where it is locally common in Zimbabwe's eastern highlands and adjacent Mozambique, Swaziland and eastern South Africa. It generally prefers forest, thick bush and other dense cover such as dense evergreen and deciduous thickets, suburban and farm gardens as well as old, overgrown cultivated land.

Distribution of Buff-spotted flufftail 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 J.B Dunning, Hoodspruit, South Africa 1980, [© Transvaal Museum]


Predators and parasites

  • Predators
    • of adults
      • Felis catus (Domestic cat)
      • Canis lupus familiaris (Domestic dog)
    • of chicks

Movements and migrations

Little known, it is thought to be resident in some areas and locally migratory in others, travelling away from high altitude areas when they get to cold in winter.


Eats a variety of invertebrates, doing most of its foraging in leaf litter or among short grass, walking slowly while digging and probing with its bill in search of food. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, with pairs staying together for the duration of the breeding season.
  • The nest is built by the female in 2-3 days, consisting of a domed structure with an entrance hole at one end, usually made of dead leaves or grass, twigs, moss and bark and lined with fine grass, rootlets, moss or leaf fragments. It is typically placed in a shallow excavated depression, well concealed beneath dense cover such as Forest grass (Oplismenus hirtellus) or herbaceous creepers, including alien dead nettles (Lamium),
  • Egg-laying season is from September-April, peaking in and around November.
  • It lays 3-5 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 15-16 days.
  • The chicks leave the nest within 1-2 days of hatching and are fed and brooded by both parents, taking their first flight at about 19-21 days old. At this point the adults chase them away before laying the next batch of eggs - they can rear up to four broods per breeding season.


Not threatened, in fact its population is on the increase in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.


  • 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.