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Fr: Râle à bec jaune
All : Mohrensumpfhuhn
Esp : Polluela Negra Africana
Ital: Schiribilla nera africana
Nd: Zwart Poseleinhoen
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Page family Rallidae

Summary cards


Black Crake
Amaurornis flavirostra

Gruiforme Order – Rallidae Family

Length: 19-23 cm
Weight: 69-118 g

A South African rail often perched on the back of the large mammals where it gleans parasites.

The Black Crake adult has black plumage overall, with washed olive-chestnut upperparts. But in the wild, this bird appears slaty-black.
The bill is bright greenish-yellow. The eyes are red with red, narrow eye-ring. Legs and feet are bright red.
Both sexes are similar.
In non-breeding plumage, legs and feet are duller.

The juvenile is brown, with blackish bill, grey to brown eyes, and blackish legs and feet.
The immature is dull olive-brown with greenish-black bill, red eyes and brownish-pink legs and feet.
The chick has black down and pale pink bill.


The Black Crake’s advertising call is a duet with one bird giving harsh chatter “krrrok-krrraa” often repeated, whereas the other bird utters soft, purring notes.
Sometimes, other family members join in and they can crouch in circle while calling, giving hysterical wheezy duets. These loud, piercing sounds are increasing in volume.
These duets are often delivered from the dense aquatic vegetation. 
The alarm call is a sharp “chip”. Contact calls are softer “pruk” or “bup”.
This species is less vocal outside the breeding season. 

The Black Crake frequents several types of freshwater habitats with moderate cover of vegetation and permanent flooded areas.
This species is found in reedbeds, swampy thickets sedges, and bushes close to flowing waters. It prefers the dense undergrowth of the wet clearings in wooded areas, and the grassy marshes in open areas.
The Black Crake climbs and roosts in tangled vegetation and likes the ponds with Nymphaea and floating plants.
It can adapt to drier areas where it frequents small streams with thin cover, and can be seen close to human habitations. It sometimes feeds in open area, but with nearby cover.
This species is visible from the sea-level up to 3000 metres of elevation, but it is commoner below 1200 metres.

The Black Crake is a sub-Saharan African species but it is absent from the desert regions of NE and SW.

The Black Crake feeds by day and mainly after the rains. It forages in several types of habitats in addition to wetlands, such as cultivated areas, short grass and dry ground, and it may feed some distance from cover.
It probes into the mud, the dead plants, turns over the fallen leaves to reach invertebrates, and takes food from the ground, the water and the vegetation. It forages in shallow water by walking slowly.
It also perches sometimes on the back of the large mammals such as hippopotami and warthogs, probably for gleaning parasites.

The Black Crake feeds mainly on aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans, worms, molluscs, insects (adults and larvae), small fish, tadpoles and small frogs.
It also consumes seeds and some parts of the aquatic plants.
This bird takes eggs and nestlings from other species such as weavers and herons, and scavenges at small carcasses of crabs, crayfish and small birds.
The Black Crake is often seen feeding in open areas, along the shores, walking on the floating vegetation thanks to its long toes.

It is territorial during the breeding season. The establishment of the breeding territory is accompanied by increasing calling. This bird becomes very aggressive and attacks the other rails’ species.
Courtship feeding and mutual preening are common in Rallidae species, and chases between the mates often lead to copulation.

The displays enhance the bright colours of the bare parts, with bowing and wing movements.

The Black Crake is mostly sedentary with local migrations. The birds of the drier parts of the range appears with the rains, and leave in dry season.

The Black Crake, as many rails, has short, rounded, broad wings. When flying over short distances, the bird has low, weak flight with dangling legs.

The breeding season may occur all year round in good conditions, with peaks during or following the rains.
The Black Crake nests in vegetation over water. The nest is a deep, bulky bowl made with reeds, sedges, grasses and several aquatic plants. It shows a rim of 20-50 cm above the water, but it also can be a floating structure. It may sometimes nest on the ground or in grass tussock close to the water, or even in bushes up to three metres above the ground.
The nest is built by both parents, sometimes helped by young of the previous brood. The male often builds other nests for roosting.

The female lays 3 eggs and both parents incubate during about 13-19 days, and can be helped by immature birds. At hatching, the chicks have black down and they leave the nest very soon, within three days after hatching. They are fed by both parents and helpers for 3-6 weeks. They can fly at 5-6 weeks old.
This species can produce up to four broods per season, the following laying can occur when the chicks are 3 weeks old.   
The young remain within the family group until the next breeding season.

The Black Crake feeds on aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates such as worms, crustaceans, molluscs, insects’ adults and larvae, small fish, tadpoles and small frogs.
It may take eggs and nestlings of other birds’ species (herons and weavers). It consumes seeds and parts of the aquatic plants, and scavenges at carcasses of crabs, crayfish and small birds.

The Black Crake is common and widespread within its African range. This species has adapted to artificial wetlands and temporary habitats, and it is not threatened at this moment.