Sunday, 3 February 2013

Buff-banded Rail

There are Buff-banded Rails at our pond? Well there are at least two, for now.

My daughter and I rescued a Buff-banded Rail chick from a drain today. In retrospect I'm not sure we did the right thing. I wanted the chick back with its parent quickly but looking at photos afterwards, it looks like the chick landed in sludgy oil and maybe we should have called WIRES to have it cleaned before being returned to the wild.

Here's what happened. Walking around the pond, as you do on a nice afternoon, I heard loud bird shrieking at close range. It seemed to be coming from a drain, which is approximately a cubic metre in volume, just a few metres away. 

The drain is a pond overflow pit, which is mostly out of the water in dry times though one edge is in the water today. I stepped onto the cover but couldn't see anything.

The shrieking continued. I looked up and saw what I thought was a crake of some kind, on the grass where I'd just been. The bird was calling wildly and I only had time for two awful photos before it raced into the reeds.

On closer inspection of the drain, which was not easy from any angle, I realised there was a chick inside.

What I didn't realise properly at the time was that it had probably landed in the horrible pond sludge you see below, before it made its way to the relative safety of the wall, where it could move around a bit.

I was sort of able to peer in. The chick was naturally very scared. There's an open edge at the top of the drain of about 20cm, that a bird might escape through but this chick was not attempting to fly. It was stuck.

I tried opening the top of the drain but it was too heavy. I figured the only way out for the bird was on foot so I went home and to find wood to make a walkway and identified the bird as a Buff-banded Rail. The Canberra Ornithologists website lists these rails as uncommon summer breeding migrants.

On returning and positioning some tomato stakes as a walkway I sat and I waited but of course nothing happened. My daughter arrived a while later. We had another go at removing the drain cover and together we lifted it. For intents and purposes the chick was still stuck at the bottom but as my daughter had brought a rag, an old, clean nappy, she was able to catch it easily. She held the chick for long enough to take a photo, before it jumped from her clutch and darted into the reeds. 

Thrilled as I am to learn that Buff-banded Rails are so close to us, I'm not sure this one will survive today's experience. In the photos it looks like there's grease or oil near its tail which is potentially poisonous. I really hope it survives.



  1. I would think a wipe with an absorbent Nappy would do wonders for the chick.
    Head and body seem clean, and legs OK.
    I would give you a 9/10 for rescue well performed.

  2. Thanks a lot for your encouraging words Denis. Much appreciated. The chick darted off with great agility so it was not slowed down by any oil.

  3. What an adventure! I think you did an amazing job and gave it it's best chance of surviving. I hope you get to find out, but I guess you probably won't ever know.

  4. Thank you Louise. I'm really impressed these rails live at our wetlands. I'm not sure if they are migratory, but I'd love them to either stick around or else come back to breed next year. I hear of so many sad stories of young birds and mature too, being killed by cats, dogs and foxes I really wanted to give this one a helping hand. Both my daughter and I checked the drain today but 'Otto' had not fallen in a second time. I'll bet a few ducklings have come to a sad end in there, in past years.