Galapagos Rail Laterallus spilonota

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


  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Galapagos Rail
eBird range map for Galapagos Rail

Generated from eBird observations (Year-Round, 1900-present)

Distribution in the Americas

Galapapos Rail is resident, and endemic to the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador): Pinta, Fernandina, Isabella, Santiago, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana (Franklin et al. 1979).

Distribution outside the Americas

Not found outside of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Galapagos Rail is not migratory, so it is unlikely to occur away from the Galapagos Islands.


Galapagos Rail occurs in highland areas characterized by humid zone vegetation (Franklin et al. 1979). Islands with an elevation sufficient to support a fern belt region characterized by a dense undergrowth of shrubs and forbaceous vegetation is preferred by Galapagos rail (Franklin et al. 1979). Of the 18 major islands in the Galapagos, seven have elevation high enough to support highland vegetation: Española, Fernandina, Floreana, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Santiago and Pinta Islands (Franklin et al. 1979). Franklin et al. (1979) observed Galapagos Rails in Scalesia forest, the shrubby Miconia zone, and in the fern-sedge zone near the summit of Santa Cruz Island. Gibbs et al. (2002) found that sites on Santa Cruz Island where calling rails were detected had 36% more fern cover compared to available ground cover types. In addition, more rails were detected in highland zones than in agricultural zones on Santa Cruz Island (Gibbs et al. 2002).

Historical changes

At the time of expeditions to the Galapagos in the late 19th century, Galapagos Rail occurred in coastal mangrove habitat, but all mangrove zone populations have disappeared in the intervening decades (Salvin 1876, Rothschild and Hartert 1899, Snodgrass and Heller 1904, Gifford 1913, Donlan et al. 2007). Only a single Galapagos Rail was detected on San Cristobal Island during the most recent published survey of that island (Rosenberg 1990), indicating that the population on San Cristobal is likely very low. Heavy grazing by livestock can eliminate the dense fern undergrowth used by Galapagos Rails (Franklin et al. 1979). When goats (Capra) were introduced to Pinta Island for grazing in 1959, the animals cleared the humid zone of forbaceous undergrowth vegetation leaving only trees and shrubs (Weber 1971). No rails were detected during surveys of Pinta Island during a 1970 study by Kramer and Black illustrating the significant negative effect that introduced pigs (Sus scrofa) and goats had on the rail population on the island. During 70 Galapagos Rail surveys conducted on Santiago Island in 1986 and 1987, only 25 rails were detected (Rosenberg 1990). In contrast, after pigs, goats, and donkeys (Equus sp.) had been exterminated from Santiago between 1990-2000, 279 rails were detected in 65 surveys (Donlan et al. 2007).

Fossil history

None reported.

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.