Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday 174 - Woodhen

If you are looking at one of these birds, you will know exactly where you are in the world.

The Woodhen (Gallirallus sylvestris) is endemic to Lord Howe Island, which means it occurs nowhere else on Earth.  In fact, for a time it looked like it might end up not existing anywhere at all, and go the same way as the Dodo and the Passenger Pigeon. In 1980 only 15 individuals of this species could be found, living on the high plateau and steep slopes of Mount Gower.  This species had been driven to the edge of extinction by a familiar combination of conditions; direct predation for food by humans, introduced cats and pigs.  While the humans had ceased ceased eating he Woodhen for food, the same could not be said for the cats and and pigs which continued to eat the eggs, young and adults of this species.

It was only the steepness and remoteness of the top of Mt. Gower that allowed them to hang on there.  Thankfully, help was on its way.  A highly successful breeding scheme and a program to remove the cats and pigs has allowed the population of Woodhens to grow - and it is now stable at around 300 individuals.  This is probably nowhere near as abundant as it once was, but at least the immediate danger of extinction seems to have passed.

Flightless rails like this were once found on most Pacific Islands, and it is thought that most became extinct before they were found by western science.

As an evolutionary strategy, flightlessness makes sense on islands with few or no predators, but once that situation changes it becomes a recipe for extinction.  The Woodhen is flightless, about the size of a small chicken, tastes good (this is not based on primary research!) and will come to investigate any strange noises that occur in their territory - including clapping and bagging sticks on trees.

So, with a stick in hand to make a noise, early settlers of Lord Howe Island were able to lure this bird from the bushes and hit it on the head with remarkable ease.  They must have thought it was too good to be true - which of course it was, and soon the bird became rare.  Thankfully, they are now relatively easy to see - all you have to do is get to Lord Howe Island in the first place!

The first set of pictures with two Woodhens were taken on the summit plateau of Mt. Gower, in what would have been better weather for swimming than photography.  These birds were very tame and were wandering about at our feet as we eat lunch.  These are older birds.  You can tell this because of the pale patch behind the eyes.  They are also 'known' birds as they have bands.








These are two different birds, and they are both young un-banded birds.  This is of course very good news, as it means that the Woodhens are still doing what comes naturally!




The first of this last series contains my 'trade mark' plant obstruction, and I think this is perfect for a bird that tends to hide in the bushes - well, until you clap your hands anyway!

Remarkable to think that this combination of 4 birds accounts for more than 1% of the entire world population of this bird!

Now it's over to you - click the blue button and off you go - and this week I should be able to visit your blogs in a more timely manner. SM


44 comments:

Karen said...

Great shots! I hope they stay safe on the island.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Rara Avis indeed. It was so interesting to know you traveled to this amazing, unknown ( to most of us) island. And the scenery , I thought, made it worth the trip. But to see these birds outdoes everything. Just wonderful to know about. Thanks for sharing all the great info as well as the pictures. I've often thought that I could make a virtual lifer list ( if I were a list maker) because I've often learned on blogs about birds that I didn't know existed. The woodhen would definitely top that list!

Phil Slade said...

Hey that's one great lifer Stewart. You tell a familiar tale of the species' near extinction but thankfully it should be safe now.

Thanks for the chance to join in today.

Penelope Puddlisms said...

Something about this very rare bird reminds me of some dinosaur drawings I have seen … teeny-tiny versions, of course. :)

eileeninmd said...

Hello Stewart, I am glad they were able to help this species survive. I hope they continue to do well on the island. Awesome collection of photos. Thanks for hosting, enjoy your week!

Kenneth Cole Schneider said...

They seem to be an affectionate old couple, and prolific at that! When you mentioned your trip to the Pacific Island last week it had me wondering whether it was for work or pleasure. Obviously climbing up that mountain was the "work" part, but the photos you obtained are certainly pleasurable! Thanks for sharing them and the very interesting narrative!

Sharon Wagner said...

What a beautiful bird. Kidding! Kind of plain and tastes like chicken. That is a recipe for extinction. Glad everyone's just admiring its simple beauty now. Have fun on your Pacific adventure!

mick said...

Great that you were able to see and photograph this special bird. I wish others on the "mainland" could do something about introduced animals that are decimating our wildlife!

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

a little wrenching to know these birds are so accustomed to humans. Doesn't help their longevity. (There are too many evil people in this world.) I hope the good people keep them safe.

Christian Weiß said...

Wow, a fascinating bird, but 300 individuals is really low.

Lee said...

How wonderful they've been saved from extinction...I hope the good work continues and the species win the battle to survive and multiply.

Chris Rohrer said...

I'm in love with this bird. Any rail is a treat. They are VERY difficult to find. Beautiful photos. But have this particular rail out in the open!!!! They should be hiding:)

TexWisGirl said...

glad they're surviving! interesting birds, for sure!

Linda W. said...

Wow, great photos and I enjoyed learning about a new bird.

Silver Parrot said...

What a great story and set of photos! Glad to hear this bird is making a comeback!

Marilyn Kircus said...

Thanks for giving us the chance to learn about these interesting birds. Just goes to show once again, that becoming a specialist is the step before extinction.

Mike said...

Great shots, and great bit of history. I am entirely ignorant of the birding world "Down Under" and in related areas. Thanks!

Dave Lewis said...

Fantastic shots! Every once in a while people can do the right thing and save a species.

Liz said...

Very informative post, Stewart! It's great that this species hasn't become extinct.

Gayle said...

What a wonderful pair!

John @ Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

I look at them thinking one would make for a nice pet. Don't know why; they just look like they would.

Bethany Carson said...

Wow! What a neat bird with such an interesting story! They say curiosity kills the cat...but cats have 9 lives; apparently these birds didn't. I am so glad they were saved from near extinction. (And glad you don't know they taste good from personal experience--that line made me chuckle!) Thanks for sharing a delightful post and equally delightful photos!

Margaret Adamson said...

I hah never heard or seen these birds before so this post for me was fascinating.

jezikalt said...

Wow these Woodhens look incredibly similar to the Weka in New Zealand. Must be close cousins.
Awesome photos, I love the interaction between the pair.

Linda said...

Sigh! Cats and pigs have no respect for birds! Those are great photos, though.

Liz Needle said...

I had never heard of this bird. Thank you for adding to my bird knowledge.

Jo said...

Amazing captures and a bird I've never heard of either! Thanks for the interesting information on them. Is Gower island the one where cats are banned? Glad about that! I've linked up my humble contribution. *sigh* Greetings Jo

HOOTIN ANNI said...

Excellent captures!!!

Rhodesia said...

Well done and thanks so much for sharing this experience with us all. Great news that the breeding programme seems to be working, hopefully it will continue to do so. Diane

photodoug said...

Stewart, a new bird for me. Thanks for sharing.

Andrea Priebe said...

So, I was looking for the derivation of the name "Wood Hen". I thought maybe it was because their coloring definitely looks like a rich piece of Mahogany. But, then I'm thinking that the man who named them (I am making an assumption here) wouldn't be thinking "beautiful color", he would be thinking "Food". So then I thought maybe the meat is woody and tough, but I rejected that idea because if they were woody and tough they wouldn't have been eaten into almost extinction. So the most probable reason for the name is that they live in the woods ... phew. So these are great pictures and I love this not so little bird. You are so blessed to be able to take trips like this and see a bird that only exists in one place in the world. Impressive, Stewart ... I can't wait to see more from this excursion :)

Andrea @ From The Sol

Andrea

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

What odd-looking birds! And a cute couple, I hope they flourish.

Thanks for those shots and the information, Stewart.
~

Marie C said...

Your post was wonderful...I had no idea this sweet ground bird had ever been endangered. It does make sense, though that it came close, and I am so happy they are rebounding! Loved your photos! Loved learning about them.

pattisjarrett said...

What a great find! Quite unusual looking, but glad to hear they are doing well and increasing in number.

Mama Zen said...

Amazing shots, Stewart!

Ranten said...

Interesting history and great pictures! I have seen a program on TV where they told about these birds.

A Quiet Corner said...

They hit them over the head with a stick?!?! Yikes!! They resemble doves to me, Stewart....:)JP

Brian King said...

Maybe not "pretty", but a very cool looking bird, nonetheless! Nice photos, Stewart!

GreenComotion said...

4 >= 1! Wow - does say something about the population, doesn't it?
Rare bird and nice write-up, Stewart!
Have a Happy Day!!
Peace :)

Vineeta Yashswi said...

lovely series of bird. I specially like birds in couple...

nattsyrransphoto said...

Interesting history and great pictures! Thanks for sharing.

NatureFootstep said...

the same old story. :( They seem to be lovely birds. I hope they make it. :)

edenhills said...

Pretty birds. So glad they've been able to be saved.

Beth said...

Thanks for sharing Stewart. Enjoyed reading about these amazingly rare birds.