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A photo of a Grey-cowled Wood Rail (Aramides cajaneus)
Grey-cowled Wood Rail

Grey-cowled Wood Rail

Aramides cajaneus

The Grey-cowled Wood Rail, Aramides cajaneus, is a robust bird, notable for its size within the wood rail family. It boasts a grey head and neck, with a distinctive brown patch at the back of the head in the nominate subspecies. The upperparts are olive-green to dark brown, while the chest and flanks exhibit a rich rufous hue. The belly, rump, and tail are black, and the legs are a striking coral-red. The bill is a bright greenish-yellow, and the eyes are red, adding to its vivid appearance. Both sexes share a similar plumage, while juveniles present a more subdued version of the adults' coloration.

Identification Tips

Adult Grey-cowled Wood Rails can be identified by their grey heads and necks, rufous chest and flanks, and black underparts. Their coral-red legs and greenish-yellow bill are also distinctive features. Juveniles are duller, with sooty-black bellies flecked with buff, and their bill and legs are dusky. The subspecies A. c. avicenniae is smaller, lacks the brown patch on the back of the head, and has slightly paler underparts.


This species thrives in a variety of wetland habitats, including moist lowland forests, mangrove forests, and swamps. The subspecies A. c. avicenniae is almost exclusively found in mangrove forests.


The Grey-cowled Wood Rail is widespread across Central and South America, from Costa Rica to northern Argentina and Uruguay. It is typically found at elevations from sea level to 2,000 meters, with some individuals recorded at higher altitudes.


The Grey-cowled Wood Rail is a ground-dwelling bird that is more often heard than seen, due to its secretive nature. It is known to perch in shrubbery and trees and rarely takes flight. When disturbed, it prefers to seek refuge on a low branch rather than fly away.

Song & Calls

Its vocalizations include a loud, repetitive cackling call, often heard at dawn and dusk, which can be described as "pop-tiyi pop-tiyi co-co-co-co-co" or "chitico chitico cao-cao-cao." These calls are sometimes performed in chorus or duet, with a harsh alarm call resembling a clucking shriek.


The Grey-cowled Wood Rail is monogamous, with pairs remaining together year-round. Nests are built on flat branches or in thickets, 1 to 3 meters off the ground. The clutch consists of three to seven whitish, brown-blotched eggs, incubated by both sexes. Chicks are precocial and leave the nest within a day or two after hatching.

Similar Species

The similar but smaller Rufous-necked Wood Rail can be distinguished by its reddish head and neck with a grey upper back, contrasting with the Grey-cowled Wood Rail's grey head and neck.

Diet and Feeding

This species has a varied diet, including invertebrates, small vertebrates, seeds, grains, and fruits. It is known to forage at night and is particularly adept at extracting snails from their shells and jumping to dislodge clusters of berries.

Conservation status

The Grey-cowled Wood Rail is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, with a stable and large population estimated between five million and 50 million individuals. It has a vast range but is affected by habitat destruction.

Human interaction

In some regions, the Grey-cowled Wood Rail is hunted for food and occasionally kept for this purpose. Despite its cautious nature, it can tolerate human presence up to a certain distance before retreating into cover.

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