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A photo of a Spotless Crake (Zapornia tabuensis)
Spotless Crake

Spotless Crake

Zapornia tabuensis

The Spotless Crake (Zapornia tabuensis) is a diminutive and elusive bird, a member of the rail family, Rallidae. Adults typically measure 17 to 20 cm in length, with a wingspan of 26 to 29 cm, and weigh between 40 to 50 grams. They exhibit a bluish-grey slate coloration on the head and neck, while the back and wings are adorned with a dark reddish-brown hue that transitions to a blackish-brown on the tail feathers. The underparts maintain the bluish-grey which then darkens towards the tail. Their bill is a stark black, and their eyes are a deep red, providing a striking contrast against the head. The legs and feet are a reddish-pink, completing the bird's subtle yet distinctive palette.

Identification Tips

Spotless Crakes are characterized by their lack of white spots and streaks, which distinguishes them from other crake species. They have no obvious sexual dimorphism, making it challenging to differentiate between males and females. Juveniles are duller in coloration, with a white patch on the chin and throat, and their eyes are a brownish-orange, maturing to red. Their legs and feet also transition from an olive-brown to the reddish hue seen in adults.

Habitat

These birds favor freshwater wetlands, thriving in dense vegetation which provides cover for nesting. They are often found in swampy areas with abundant raupo, flax, tussock sedge, and cabbage trees. Spotless Crakes may also inhabit dry forests on small offshore islands where wetlands are limited.

Distribution

The Spotless Crake has a broad range across the southern Pacific, from the Philippines and New Guinea to Australia, and as far south as New Zealand. In New Zealand, they are more commonly found in the North Island, with isolated populations in the South Island.

Behaviour

Spotless Crakes are secretive and tend to remain hidden within dense vegetation. They are known to forage in open muddy areas but will quickly retreat to cover if disturbed. These birds are capable of local migration if environmental conditions necessitate.

Song & Calls

The Spotless Crake's vocal repertoire includes a variety of calls, such as a bubbling sound, a sharp 'pit-pit', a variable 'mook', and a loud 'purring' call. The 'purr', composed of rapid notes, is believed to be their song and is the loudest of their calls.

Breeding

Breeding behavior is difficult to observe, but nests are typically constructed from interwoven grasses within dense vegetation. Clutch sizes range from 2 to 5 eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about 20 to 22 days. Chicks are cared for by both parents for 4 to 5 months and are capable of catching live prey within days of hatching.

Diet and Feeding

An omnivorous species, Spotless Crakes consume a diet that includes seeds, fruits, shoots, leaves of aquatic plants, insects, mollusks, crustaceans, spiders, carrion, worms, and beetles.

Conservation status

The Spotless Crake is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, they face threats from introduced mammalian predators such as cats, dogs, mustelids, and rats. Habitat clearance and degradation also pose significant risks to their populations.

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