Galapagos Rail Laterallus spilonota

  • Order: Gruiformes
  • Family: Rallidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Evan Hill



Galapagos Rail is primarily diurnal and spends most of its time foraging in dense undergrowth, investigating the leaf litter for invertebrates (Franklin et al. 1979). Galapagos Rail is able to fly and swim, but is not a strong flyer, preferring to walk along well-traveled runways made in the undergrowth vegetation, and usually walks or runs on the ground even when fleeing from danger (Franklin et al. 1979). Adult rails flee by sprinting in a zig-zag pattern towards the nearest dense vegetation (Franklin et al. 1979).

Galapagos Rail exhibits foot-stamping and tail-erection displays (Franklin et al. 1979). Foot stamping is an aggressive territorial defense display. During foot-stamping the bird walks in place, raising one foot while lowering the other with the legs bent slightly but without the toes leaving the ground. The foot-stamping display takes two levels of intensity, slow or fast. During fast foot-stamping the body is tilted forward and brought low to the ground. The tail-erection display is a threat response, and involves the bird cocking its tail at 45° to 90° and fanning its tail feathers in a semi-circle.


Galapagos Rails are territorial with non-overlapping territories (Franklin et al. 1979). Home range size is not quantified, but the greatest distance traveled by one individual was 132 m (Franklin et al. 1979).  Both members of a breeding pair respond to calls from invaders or birds on adjacent territories (Franklin et al. 1979). Foot-stamping displays are used to advertise the defense of a territory (Franklin et al. 1979). Defending birds may also repel invaders by running towards them with their body low to the ground and tail erect (Franklin et al. 1979). A physical altercation between two adults was also observed (Franklin et al. 1979).

Sexual Behavior

Galapagos Rail form monogamous pairs during their breeding season and parents share incubation duties (Franklin et al. 1979).  It is not known whether Galapagos Rail remain paired year round or if pairs dissolve following breeding.

Social and interspecific behavior

The following account is drawn from Franklin et al. (1979):


Adult parents lead a group of chicks or juveniles, and the group may split into two groups, with each adult leading a number of the chicks/juveniles. Chicks follow adult parents and receive food from them until they reach maturity. Juveniles forage for themselves, but do remain in a family group with their parents until they are nearly adult-sized. A family of Galapagos Rails moves as a group through vegetation, with both chicks and adults constantly cheeping to remain in constant contact with each other.

Galapagos Rails advertise their territory by calling either alone or in a duet, and exhibit the foot-stamping display towards perceived invaders (see Behavior). Adult Galapagos Rails also fight each other using the beak and claws during territorial disputes.


Adults approached and attempted to intimidate observing researchers who had captured their chicks. Adults would run towards observer and stop short, spreading wings and hissing loudly, or stamping their feet. Interactions with non-human interspecifics are not described in the literature.


The following account is based on (Franklin et al. 1979):

Likely predators of Galapagos Rail include domestic canines and raptors. Short-eared Owl  (Asio flammeus) is a common predator of Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis), and was observed at sites used by Galapagos Rails. Short-eared Owls would approach and hover over areas where Galapagos Rail vocalizations were being broadcast. Therefore, it is likely that Short-eared Owl and possibly other raptors prey upon the Galapagos rail. Rats (Rattus rattus) do not appear to be important nest predators of the Galapagos Rail.

Recommended Citation

Hill, E. (2013). Galapagos Rail (Laterallus spilonota), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.