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Rufous-necked Wood Rail

Aramides axillaris

The Rufous-necked Wood Rail, a member of the Rallidae family, is a medium-sized bird with a robust build, measuring 29 to 33 cm in length and weighing approximately 300 to 325 grams. Both sexes exhibit similar plumage, characterized by a rufous brown head, neck, and breast, a gray nape and upper back, and an olive brown to greenish olive back. Their wings blend greenish olive with chestnut, while their rump, tail, flanks, and undertail coverts are black. A distinctive white throat and grayish brown belly complete their striking appearance. Their long, stout bills are yellow-green, and their legs and feet are a vivid red. Juveniles present a much duller version of the adult's plumage.

Identification Tips

When identifying the Rufous-necked Wood Rail, look for the combination of rufous brown on the head and neck, the contrasting gray upper back, and the blackish underparts. The yellow-green bill and red legs are also key features to distinguish this species from others.

Habitat

This species is known to inhabit a variety of environments, including mangrove forests, deciduous forests, humid forests, and montane forests up to elevations of 1,400 meters. It appears to show a preference for coastal areas but has been increasingly sighted inland, suggesting a possible pattern of elevational migration.

Distribution

The Rufous-necked Wood Rail is found across a broad range, from Mexico's Pacific coast and the Yucatán Peninsula, through Central America, and into South America, including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, the Guianas, and Trinidad. Notably, a vagrant individual was observed in New Mexico in 2013, drawing considerable attention from birdwatchers.

Behaviour

This species is generally considered a year-round resident, but evidence suggests seasonal elevational movements, particularly in Central America and possibly in western South America. The Rufous-necked Wood Rail is a secretive bird, yet it may venture onto open mudflats and stream banks during twilight hours to forage.

Song & calls

The Rufous-necked Wood Rail's vocal repertoire includes a series of loud, irregularly paced "kip" and "kow" notes, often sung in duets by pairs. Their song is a strident series of musical notes, typically heard at dusk, dawn, and occasionally at night. In addition to their song, they emit a "cluck" and "kik" when alarmed.

Breeding

Little is known about the breeding biology of the Rufous-necked Wood Rail. The breeding season varies geographically, with few records available. Nests have been described as open bowls made of twigs, lined with weed stems, and leaves, and typically contain five eggs.

Diet and Feeding

The Rufous-necked Wood Rail primarily preys on crabs, supplementing its diet with other aquatic invertebrates. It forages during the twilight hours of morning and evening, occasionally leaving the cover to feed in more open areas.

Conservation status

The IUCN has classified the Rufous-necked Wood Rail as Least Concern due to its large range and estimated population of over 50,000 mature individuals. However, the population is believed to be decreasing, and the species is considered endangered in Mexico and Costa Rica. Threats to its habitat, particularly mangroves, include development, pollution, mariculture, and changes in sea level and salinity, all of which are driven by human activities.

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