Brown-cheeked rail

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Brown-cheeked rail
Temporal range: Pleistocene to Recent, 534,000 - 0.00 years ago
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Genus: Rallus
R. indicus
Binomial name
Rallus indicus
Blyth, 1849
Rallus indicus distribution map.svg
   Breeding summer visitor
   Resident year-round
   Winter visitor
(ranges are approximate)

The brown-cheeked rail or eastern water rail (Rallus indicus) is a species of bird in the family Rallidae. It breeds in northern Mongolia, eastern Siberia, northeast China, Korea and northern Japan, and winters in southeast Asia.[2] It used to be considered a subspecies of the water rail.


At Chittagong, Bangladesh

The species differs from the slightly smaller nominate form through its paler upperparts, brown-tinged underparts and a brown stripe through the eye. Compared to R. a. korejewi, it is darker above, has a browner breast, white on the throat and a more obvious brown eyestripe. As indicated above, it has different vocalisations to the other forms, and is now usually given full species status, although its behaviour, nest and eggs are identical to those of other subspecies of water rail.[3]

In addition to its distinctive plumage, it has very different vocalisations from the water rail, and it was considered a separate species in early works, including the first edition (1898) of Fauna of British India,[4] but later demoted to a subspecies by E. C. Stuart Baker in the second edition (1929).[5] It was restored as a full species, the eastern water rail, R. indicus, by Pamela Rasmussen in her Birds of South Asia (2005). Rasmussen, an expert on Asian birds, also renamed the other forms as the western water rail.[6][7] Her treatment has gained acceptance, and is followed in Birds of Malaysia and Singapore (2010).[8] A 2010 study of molecular phylogeny further supported the possibility of specific status for R. a. indicus, which is estimated to have diverged from the western forms around 534,000 years ago. The paper also suggested that the differences between the three other races were clinal, and that they should all be merged into R. a. aquaticus.[9]

The call is quite different from that of the water rail. The courtship call, again given throughout the year, is a sharp piping kyu, longer and clearer than that of the European race. The song is a series of metallic slurred shrink, shrink notes, about two per second, and repeated after a short pause.[6] The eastern race does not respond to recorded announcement calls of nominate R. a. aquaticus.[10]

The average weight of wind-dried nests of R. indicus in Japan was 95 g (3.4 oz).[10]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The species is mainly migratory, wintering in southern Japan, eastern China and northern Borneo. It is uncommon in northern parts of Bangladesh,[6] Burma, Laos,[11] and northern and central Thailand,[12][13] and does not normally reach further south in mainland southeast Asia.[11] Migrants have been recorded on Sri Lanka in the past, although on the Indian mainland they are found mainly in the northern regions, with a few records from as far south as Mumbai.[14][15] On arrival in India, rails may be so exhausted that they can be caught by hand.[5] The breeding birds on the Japanese island of Hokkaido mostly migrate well south including to Korea but a few remain during winter in the coastal marshes of Honshu.[16][17]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2014). "Rallus indicus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2014. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  2. ^ Taylor & van Perlo (2000) p. 29
  3. ^ Dresser, Henry Eeles (1903). A manual of Palearctic birds: part II. London: self-published. p. 705.
  4. ^ Blanford, W T (1898). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Birds, volume 4. London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 158–160.
  5. ^ a b Baker, E C S (1929). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Birds, volume 6 (2nd ed.). London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 4–7.
  6. ^ a b c Rasmussen, Pamela C; Anderton, John C (2005). Birds of South Asia, volume 2: Attributes and Status. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. pp. 141–142. ISBN 84-87334-65-2.
  7. ^ Rasmussen, P C (2005). "Biogeographic and conservation implications of revised species limits and distributions of South Asian birds". Zoologische Mededelingen. 79–3 (13): 137–146.
  8. ^ Davidson, D W H; Yeap Chin Aik (2010). Naturalist's Guide to the Birds of Malaysia and Singapore. Taunton, Somerset: John Beaufoy Publishing. p. 155. ISBN 978-1-906780-21-0.
  9. ^ Tavares, Erika S; de Kroon, Gerard H J; Baker, Allan J (2010). "Phylogenetic and coalescent analysis of three loci suggest that the Water Rail is divisible into two species, Rallus aquaticus and R. indicus". Evolutionary Biology. 10 (226): 1–12. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-226. PMC 2927924. PMID 20653954.
  10. ^ a b de Kroon, Gerard H J; Mommers, Maria H J (2005). "Biology and breeding ecology of the East Asiatic Water Rail on Shunkunitai Island, Hokkaido, Japan". Journal of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology. 37 (1): 30–42. doi:10.3312/jyio.37.30.
  11. ^ a b King, Ben F; Woodcock, Martin; Dickinson, Edward C. (1982). A Field Guide to the Birds of South East Asia. London: Harper Collins. p. 115. ISBN 0-00-219207-1.
  12. ^ Lekagul, Boonsong; Round, Philip (1991). A Guide to the Birds of Thailand. Bangkok: Saha Karn Baeth. p. 108. ISBN 974-85673-6-2.
  13. ^ Robson, Craig (2004). A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand. London: New Holland Press. p. 72. ISBN 1-84330-921-1.
  14. ^ Hartert, Ernst (1921). Die Vögel der paläarktischen Fauna. Volume 3 (in German). Berlin: R Friedlander & Sohn. pp. 1824–1826.
  15. ^ Punjabi, Hira (1997). "Sighting of Water Rail Rallus aquaticus near Mumbai". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 94 (1): 156.
  16. ^ Austin Jr; Oliver L (1948). "The Birds of Korea". Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. 101 (1): 102–103.
  17. ^ Austin Jr; Oliver L; Nagahisa Kuroda (1953). "The Birds of Japan: their status and distribution". Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. 109 (1): 403–404.