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White-winged flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi) by J. G. Keulemans
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Sarothruridae
Verheyen, 1957
Genus: Sarothrura
Heine, 1890

see list

The flufftails are placed in the family Sarothruridae, small birds related to the rails. The family is restricted to seven species distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, and two species found in Madagascar. The group's common name is derived from the short tail which has degraded fluffy feathers. All species except the white-winged flufftail display sexual dimorphism in their plumage but not their size.

Flufftails are highly secretive and seldom observed. Two species, the buff-spotted flufftail and the white-spotted flufftail, are inhabitants of dense forests, the remaining species are found in deep grasslands and marshes. One species, streaky-breasted flufftail, is known to be migratory, it is uncertain whether other species are as well; the white-winged flufftail may breed in Ethiopia and winter in South Africa but this is not known for certain.

The breeding behaviour of the flufftails has not been observed for many species. Many species breed in the wet season. All species are highly vocal during the breeding season, with repertoires including duets. In the Madagascar flufftail the courtship behaviour consists of duetting, nest building, which is undertaken by the male, nest visits by the female and copulation. The nests are domed, and in the Madagascar flufftail it is positioned high above the ground in vines, in the white-winged flufftail the nest is in reeds over waterlogged ground. The eggs of all the species that have been studied are white, which is unusual for rails. The chicks are covered in black down at birth and have a slightly coloured bill; adult plumage is quickly attained in most species. Both parents care for the chicks.

Two species are currently considered endangered by the IUCN, the white-winged flufftail and the slender-billed flufftail. They are threatened with habitat loss caused by the draining of wetlands for cultivation.


  • Keith, Stuart; Benson, Constantine Walter; Irwin, Michael P. Stuart. (1970) "The genus Sarothrura (Aves, Rallidae)." Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 143 article 1 [1]
  • René de Roland, Lily-Arison (2004)"Observations on nest building and courtship behaviour of the Madagascar Flufftail Sarothrura insularis" Bulletin of the African Bird Club 11(1): 42-43. [2]