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            March 6, 2007

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Gray necked wood rail
Gray necked wood rail
One of the larger Neotropical rails and the only Aramides with head and neck entirely grey. Like all rails, it is shy and secretive but will venture out into the open if reasonably close to dense cover at the edge of mangroves or a swamp. Very vocal especially at or before dawn. The Indians believed that part of this loud vocalisation was due to the bird farting or as Fernšo Cardim more politely noted in the 16th century, "It has a strange song, for whoever hears it assumes it to be a very large bird although it is small, for it sings with its mouth while at the same time it makes another sonorous, intense, loud, but not very smelly tone with its rear end, which can be frightening."

One of those unfortunate birds that tastes like chicken and is slow, so its had to become very illusive to survive. Walks in and out of cover at the edge of lagoons inland, saw one at Maskall.

A wood-rail and the terrestrial, largely vegetarian agouti sometimes eat only a few centimeters apart, neither paying much attention to the other. Both eat the rice, dry or cooked, that we throw from the kitchen window. They are equally fond of bananas and the fruits that drop from tall African oil palms (Elaeisg uineensisin) the garden. To peck out fragments of the oily yellow pericarp of these plum-sized fruits, the wood-rail throws its whole body into its blows, see-sawing up and down from its legs, like a woodpecker drilling into a tree. It cannot, like sharp-toothed rodents, pierce the hard, thick, woody seed coat to extract the white embryo. Fragments or whole fruits of spiny pejibaye palms (Bactris gaseipes), dropped from tall trees by a diversity of birds eating them, also attract the wood-rails. Unless well cooked, these widely esteemed fruits sting the human mouth, but this does not deter the birds. I watched a wood-rail jump high to break a cluster of bright blue berries from a shrub of the coffee family. Dropping the cluster to the ground, it plucked off and swallowed the berries, one by one. Especially in wet weather, wood-rails walk over the lawn, flicking fallen leaves aside with their bills, or picking them up and tossing them, to uncover what lurks beneath. They dig into horse droppings for undigested grains of maize, or perhaps intestinal parasites. In El Peten, Guatemala, Kilham (1979) watched a wood-rail vigorously peck and shake a 30-cm water snake for 45 min before swallowing it, still writhing feebly, on the seventh attempt. He also saw these birds take snails (Pomacefai agellata) from a reservoir and by several minutes of pounding on the shell open a small hole to extract the contents. These wood-rails had become as tame as domestic chickens and could be watched closely. In Panama, Wetmore (1965) found wood-rails eating small crabs in mangrove swamps. Roaches and other small invertebrates filled out their diet.

Photo by Barnacle Bill of Barnacle Bill's Beach Bungalows         Click here to comment on this picture .

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