Laterallus – Crakes & rails

The choice between tiptoeing on water or walking on the ground seems challenging for these witty birds

These birds are highly adapted to life in wet environments and are found predominantly in the Americas, from the southern United States all the way down to the southernmost regions of South America. Despite their affinity for watery landscapes such as wetlands, swamps, marshes, and even agricultural fields that mimic their natural habitats, these crakes exhibit behaviors that set them apart from other waterfowl.

Unlike ducks and other water-loving birds, crakes are not known for their swimming abilities. Instead, they have evolved to exploit a different niche within their ecosystem. With their long toes, they are adept at walking on soft, uneven ground, including floating vegetation, which allows them to forage for food without the need to swim. Their diet is as varied as their habitat, consisting of insects, seeds, and small aquatic animals, which they hunt with precision.

Crakes are generally solitary creatures with a preference for living alone outside of the breeding season. Their elusive behavior complements their solitary nature. They are often heard rather than seen, with calls that can pierce through the dense vegetation of their habitats. This shyness and tendency to remain hidden make them a challenge for birdwatchers and researchers alike.

However, the breeding season sparks a change in their behavior. It is during this time that crakes, driven by the need to procreate, will seek out mates. Courtship can be a noisy affair with vocalizations and displays that are otherwise uncharacteristic of these usually reclusive birds. After mating and the subsequent raising of their young, these birds typically resume their solitary ways, emphasizing the temporary nature of their social interactions.