Winner of the 1999 University Book Prize given by the University of Natal, Durban, South Africa
Rarely seen and poorly known, rails can be found throughout the world, absent only from polar regions, completely waterless deserts, and mountains above the snow line. This secretive and intriguing family of birds occupies a diverse range of habitats, from forests to wetlands, grasslands, and even scrub-covered remote oceanic islands and coral cays. Barry Taylor and Ber van Perlo have described and illustrated 145 species of rails, including two that have only recently been described and eleven that are recently extinct.
The book, based on up-to-date references and on new observations, is the first to give comprehensive information on field identification (including voice), covering all species and races for which details are known. It is also the first to provide descriptions of the immature and juvenile plumages of many species. The authors provide a detailed summary of current knowledge of all aspects of rail biology and their often complex behavior, social structure, and family life. They explain how such apparently poorly flying birds can undertake intercontinental migrations and are such widespread and successful colonists of remote oceanic islands. They also discuss the remarkable ease and speed with which species on such islands have evolved into flightless forms in the absence of predators, a fact that has led to the rapid extinction of numerous island taxa following the arrival of humans. Rail habitats are fast disappearing, say the authors, and many rails become endangered before enough is known about them to plan effective conservation measures. The book provides information on distribution, status, habitat requirements, and current threats, and it gives conservation priorities for threatened species.
43 color plates by Ber van PERLO. Maps.