Gallirallus is a genus that contains about a dozen living species of rails that live in the Australasian-Pacific region. Many of these, for example the most well-known one – the bold and inquisitive weka of New Zealand – are flightless or nearly so; others such as the Buff-banded Rail, while not good flyers, can go for considerable distances once airborne. This has enabled the flying species of this genus to colonize islands all over the region. Many of the resultant flightless island endemics became extinct later on after the arrival of humans which hunted these birds for food, introduced novel predators like rats, dogs or pigs, and upset the local ecosystems. A common Polynesian name of these rails, mainly relatives of G. philippensis, is weka/veka.
One species, the Guam Rail, is extinct in the wild; there exists a semi-wild population in preparation for reintroduction to its original habitat. Three more species have gone extinct in historic times, while two others – the New Caledonian and Sharpe’s Rails – are probably extinct. Two further species are assumed from circumstantial evidence to have survived into the Modern era but are not known from recent specimens.
On the other hand, Gallirallus species are (with the exception of the Weka) notoriously retiring and shy birds with often drab coloration. Given that the Okinawa Rail and the Calayan Rail have only been discovered in the late 20th century and as late as 2004, respectively, it cannot be ruled out that the New Caledonian and Sharpe’s Rail still exist.
Gallirallus species extinct before the Modern era are:
- Niue Rail, Gallirallus huiatua
- Mangaia Rail, Gallirallus ripleyi
- Huahine Rail, Gallirallus storrsolsoni
- ‘Eua Rail, Gallirallus vekamatolu
- A similar bird was found to live on Vava‘u in 1793.
- Marianas Rail, Gallirallus cf. owstoni
- Marquesas Rail, Gallirallus sp.
- New Ireland Rail, Gallirallus sp.
- Norfolk Island Rail, Gallirallus sp. (possibly survived to the 19th century)
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