Polluela Negra/Black Rail/Laterallus jamaicensis 

Foto: Hector Bottai

Nombre en español: Polluela Negra

Nombre en inglés: Black Rail

Nombre científico: Laterallus jamaicensis 

Familia: Rallidae

Canto: Andrew Spencer

El burrito cuyano (Laterallus jamaicensis), también conocido como pidencitocotarita o polluela negra es una especie de ave gruiforme de la familia Rallidae distribuida por América del Norte y la región del Pacífico de América del Sur. Habita normalmente en los pantanos salados costeros pero también en algunos pantanos de agua dulce. Está en peligro de extinción o amenazado en muchos lugares debido a la pérdida del hábitat. Las poblaciones más grandes en América del Norte están en Florida y California.


Tiene una longitud total de aproximadamente 15 centímetros. Tiene la cabeza y el vientre de coloración plomiza, la nuca y el cuello dorsalmente es de coloración canela, característica que lo diferencia de las otras especies. Dorso pardo salpicado. Flanco y subcaudales barreadas de negro. El ejemplar juvenil no tiene canela en el cuello o dorso.

Historia natural

Son omnívoros, propios de los pastizales salobres, alimentándose principalmente de invertebrados pequeños pero también de las semillas de algunas plantas. Son cazados por muchas aves (halcones y garzas), mamíferos (zorros y gatos); la vegetación del pantano espesa es su única protección. Son territoriales y cantan ruidosa y frecuentemente durante la estación de apareamiento.

Prefiere correr entre la vegetación a volar.

Esta especie puede ser conespecífica con Laterallus exilis, del litoral caribeño tropical y América del Sur oriental, y con el burrito de las Islas Galápagos, Laterallus spilonotus.


Se conocen cinco subespecies de Laterallus jamaicensis:​

  • Laterallus jamaicensis coturniculus (Ridgway) 1874.
  • Laterallus jamaicensis jamaicensis (Gmelin) 1789.
  • Laterallus jamaicensis murivagans (Riley) 1916.
  • Laterallus jamaicensis salinasi (Philippi) 1857.
  • Laterallus jamaicensis tuerosi Jon Fjeldså, 1983. Algunos autores consideran a esta subespecie una especie plena Laterallus tuerosi.
Foto: Antonio Pessoa

Black rail

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis) is a mouse-sized member of the rail family Rallidae that occurs in both North and South America.


The black rail was formally described in 1789 by the German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in his revised and expanded edition of Carl Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae. He placed it with all the rails in the genus Rallus and coined the binomial name Rallus jamaicensis.[2] Gmelin based his description on the «Least water hen» that had been described and illustrated in 1760 by the English naturalist George Edwards in his Gleanings of Natural History.[3] Edwards had obtained a preserved specimen that had been brought to London from Jamaica by Patrick Browne. Browne had briefly mentioned the rail in his book «The Civil and Natural History of Jamaica». The black rail is now placed with 12 other small rails and crakes in the genus Laterallus that was introduced in 1855 by George Robert Gray. The genus name is a portmanteau of Rallus lateralis, a synonym of the binomial name for the rufous-sided crake, the type species of the genus. The specific epithet jamaicensis is from «Jamaica», the type locality.

There are five recognized subspecies:

  • California rail, L. j. coturniculus (Ridgway, 1874) – found in both fresh and salt water marshes of California and Arizona, and is a resident species. The California rail can be distinguished from other subspecies by its shorter bill, and brown crown and upper back. The California Fish and Game Commission listed  L. j. coturniculus as Threatened in 1971 due to loss of wetland habitat.
  • Eastern black rail, L. j. jamaicensis (Gmelin, JF, 1789) – found in eastern North America, the Caribbean, and Central America. Nicknamed the «feathered mouse», the subspecies is partially migratory, breeding in the United States and wintering further south. The US Fish and Wildlife Service declared L. j. jamaicensis a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in October 2020. The eastern black rail can be differentiated from other subspecies by its gray crown and light brown nape.
  • L. j. murivagans (Riley, 1916) – found on the coast of Peru. This subspecies is over all paler, with white bars in the undertail coverts, distinguishing it from other subspecies. There is little information available on this subspecies.
  • L. j. salinasi (Philippi, 1857) – found in Argentina and Chile, and is the southernmost subspecies. On average, this subspecies is larger than the other subspecies. This subspecies can be distinguished from the others by the large rufus patch on the upper back.[8]
  • Junín rail, L. j.tuerosi Fjeldså, 1983 – only found in the marshes of Lake Junín, Peru. The Junín Rail is considered Endangered because of its limited range. The Junín rail can be distinguished from other subspecies by its plain undertail coverts and pale legs.


The black rail is a small black bird with a short bill. Black rails usually weigh 29-39 g, are 10-15 cm in length, and have a wingspan of 8.7-11.0 in (22-28 cm). The body is dark, with white speckles along the back and wings. Both the beak and legs are dark. Adults have a red eye that appears around 3 months of age. 

It will often make its presence known with its distinctive ki-ki-krr call or an aggressive, presumably territorial, growl. This is primarily uttered during the night, when these birds are most vocal. The peak of vocalization is during the first two weeks of May, when breeding and courtship behaviors are also at their peak.

Distribution and habitat

It is found in scattered parts of North America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific region of South America, usually in coastal salt marshes but also in some freshwater marshes. It is extinct or threatened in many locations due to habitat loss. The largest populations in North America are in Florida and California.

Behaviour and ecology

The black rail is rarely seen and prefers running in the cover of the dense marsh vegetation to flying.


This rail is territorial during the breeding season, and occasionally males will mate with two or more females. The nests of this bird are placed on the ground, in dense, swampy vegetation or in patches of flooded grass. The nests are bowl-shaped and built with vegetation loosely woven.

The clutch of this bird usually consists of six to eight creamy white speckled, with reddish-brown spots, eggs. These eggs are roundish and measure around 23 by 17 millimetres (0.91 by 0.67 in). They are incubated by both parents, taking shifts of approximately one hour each, for 16 to 20 days. The precocial young then hatch.

In 2015, the first ever breeding by black rails in South Carolina was captured through a  camera study. This species was once thought to be a non-breeding visitor to the state. 

Food and feeding

The black rail is an opportunistic feeder and consumes a wide range of food. Its diet includes seeds, insects, crustaceans and mollusks. The black rail forages by feeding along the water lines after high and low tide. 


Under the IUCN Red List, the black rail is listed as endangered with decreasing populations. The IUCN estimates there are between 28,000 and  92,000 mature individuals remaining. The largest threats to the Black Rail are habitat destruction and severe weather events. 

The wetland habitat that the black rail depends on has steadily declined through the last several decades, due to draining for development and conversion to agricultural land.

In addition to declining populations and increasing threats, the black rail is also impacted by the lack of scientific studies available. Because of the secretive and hard to observe nature of the bird, there is very little known about them to help prevent population decline.  

They are preyed upon by many avian (hawks, egrets, and herons) and mammalian (foxes and cats) predators, and rely on the cover of thick marsh vegetation for protection. High tides are a dangerous time for black rails, as they are quite vulnerable to predation outside the marsh.

Fuentes: Wikipedia/eBird/xeno-canto

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