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Laterallus melanophaius

Rufous-sided Crake

  • Order: Gruiformes
  • Family: Rallidae
  • Polytypic 2 Subspecies

Authors: Schulenberg, Thomas S



Crakes are small rails with short, rather stout bills. Rufous-sided Crake is a medium sized crake with brown upperparts, offset by rufous sides of the head, neck, breast, and upper flanks. The center of the throat, breast and belly are white, and the lower blacks are barred black and white.

Similar Species

Rufous-sided Crake usually is readily distinguished by its small size, rufous sides, and barred flanks. Russet-crowned Crake (Anurolimnas viridis) has little or no white on the throat, breast or belly, has a dark bill, and lacks barring on the flanks. Black-banded Crake (Anurolimnas fasciatus) is larger and darker, with a dark bill, cinnamon (not white) base color to the flanks, and does not have any white on the throat, breast or belly. Red-and-white Crake (Laterallus leucopyrrhus) has a chestnut crown and sides of head, more boldly barred flanks, and white (not buffy) undertail coverts. Rufous-faced Crake (Laterallus xenopterus) has a buffy neck and breast, and white barring on the wing coverts and scapulars.


The song of Rufous-sided Crake is described as a "chatter" or as "a rubbery, musical trill" that is similar to that of most other species of Laterallus (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2012); it is particularly similar to the song of White-throated Crake (Laterallus albigularis) (Hilty and Brown 1986, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b). Compared to the song of White-throated Crake, the song of Rufous-sided Crake is less harsh (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b); and the song of Rufous-sided Crake is more musical than the songs of Gray-breasted (Laterallus exilis) and Russet-crowned (Anurolimnas viridis) crakes (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010).

Calls include "high-pitched tinkling calls and [a] short treeeeeng" (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b) and "a harsh, descending djreer" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010).

Nonvocal Sounds

None reported.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following desciption refers to nominate melanophaius, and is based on Taylor (1998); see also Geographic Variation:

Adult: Sexes similar. Upperparts dark olive brown. Lores, feathers around eye, and often the supercilium tinged gray. Auriculars, sides of head and breast rufous to cinnamon rufous. Wing coverts olive brown. Throat and center of breast and belly white. Flanks and belly barred blackish brown and white. Undertail coverts dark cinnamon rufous.

Bare Parts

Iris: brown, bright red, red brown

Bill: maxilla gray, tomia pea green; mandible pale pea green, tip whitish

Tarsi and toes: light gray brown, olive brpown

Bare parts color data from Taylor (1998) and personal observations.


Total length: 14-18 cm (Taylor 1998), 15 cm (Hilty and Brown 1986), 15.5-16 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b)

Linear measurements: 

wing length (flat), male: mean 78.4 mm (range 71-82 mm, n = 9; Blake 1977)

culmen (from base), male: mean 20.3 mm (range 19-22 mm, n = 9; Blake 1997)

tarsus, male: mean 28.6 mm (range 25-33 m, n = 9; Blake 1997)

wing length (flat), female: 76 mm (n = 1; Blake 1977)

culmen (from base), female: 20 mm (n = 1; Blake 1997)

tarsus, female: 28 mm (n = 1; Blake 1997)

Mass: 1 male, 60 g (Haverschmidt and Mees 1994); 2 females, 53, 54 g (Haverschmidt and Mees 1994); mean 51.4 g (n = 6, sexes undetermined; Taylor 1998)


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Geographic Variation

Two subspecies recognized:

melanophaius, described as Rallus melanophaius by Vieillot (1819); type locality Paraguay. 

Occurs from Venezuela south to Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay, except western Amazonia.

See Detailed Description.

oenops, described as Porzana oenops by Sclater and Salvin (1880); type locality Sarayacu, Ecuador.

Similar to nominate melanophaius, but upperparts paler; forecrown and postocular areas rufous or strongly washed with rufous (Blake 1977, Taylor 1998)

Occurs in southeastern Colombia, eastern Ecuador, eastern Peru (except southeastern Peru, where more similar to melanophaius; Schulenberg et al. 2010), and western Brazil (east to Itacoatiara, Amazonas).


Laterallus melanophaius is very similar to Laterallus albigularis (White-throated Crake), and formerly these two were considered to be conspecific by some authors (e.g., Hellmayr and Conover 1942), but most authorities follow Peters (1948) and Wetmore (1965) in recognizing melanophaius and albigularis as distinct species.

Recommended Citation

Schulenberg, Thomas S. 2012. Rufous-sided Crake (Laterallus melanophaius), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: