The banded rail (Gallirallus phillippensis assimilis), or moho pererū as it is known to Maori, is a distinctively coloured, highly dispersive, medium-sized rail of the family Rallidae. They are largely terrestrial birds, and are the size of a small domestic chicken.
Banded rail/moho pererū are well camouflaged and usually quite shy
They have been recorded in a wide variety of inland and coastal wetland areas, particularly in mangrove stands. Banded rails are rarely seen because of their secretive behaviour and excellent camouflage and live in habitats with low, dense vegetation for cover.
Banded rail/moho pererū are usually quite shy but may become very tame and bold in some circumstances, as they have become on Great Barrier Island.
They have mainly brown upperparts, finely banded black and white underparts, a white eyebrow, chestnut band running from the bill round the nape, with a buff band on the breast.
Banded rails have declined significantly since humans began draining wetlands and are now classed as at risk, naturally uncommon.
- Banded rails are medium sized birds (30 cm, 170 g).
- They are uncommonly seen and their population numbers are unknown
- Breeding occurs deep in wetlands
- Their nest is usually situated in dense grassy or reedy vegetation close to water, with a clutch size of 3-4
- The banded rail is an omnivorous scavenger which feeds on a range of terrestrial invertebrates and small vertebrates, seeds, fallen fruit, the succulent part of grasses, and other vegetable matter, as well as carrion and refuse
- They are a potential indicator of wetland health because they are dependent on the presence of high quality and ecologically diverse habitats and rich food supplies
- They are similar to a weka, but not as large
Where are they found?
New Zealand's banded rail is one of 15 subspecies found in the Pacific. The species comprises several subspecies found throughout much of Australasia and the south-west Pacific region. This includes the Philippines, New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, and numerous smaller islands, covering a range of latitudes from the tropics to the Subantarctic.
Banded rail/moho pererū are classed as 'at risk, naturally uncommon'
When Europeans arrived in New Zealand, banded rails were abundant, but regional and local populations have undergone declines. The population is widely scattered throughout New Zealand, being sparsely distributed on the three main islands and many small offshore islands.
They are confined to freshwater wetlands, mangroves, saltmarshes and shrublands in the northern half of the North Island (particularly in Northland and the Coromandel), and to saltmarshes in Nelson and Marlborough in the South Island.
The main threats to banded rail/moho pererū are:
Habitat clearance and drainage: this has had a significant impact on banded rails. Over 90% of lowland wetlands have been drained and cleared for agriculture since Europeans settled New Zealand. Degradation of the remaining wetlands continues with grazing, water pollution and taking of water for other uses being major threats.
Coastal development: mangrove removal and construction of marinas result in habitat modification and the loss of food supplies.
Predation by introduced mammals: cats, dogs, mustelids and rats predate banded rail/moho pererū. Cats appear to be a significant threat to, based on historic and current data.
Other factors which impact on the banded rail/moho pererū: Road-kills appear to be significant causes of deaths, and nesting banded rails are also sensitive to disturbance by humans.
Downy banded rail chick being artificially fed
Wetlands support a wide range of threatened bird species in New Zealand. However, management techniques for restoring their populations are poorly developed.
DOC is focusing on developing methods for surveying banded rails systematically. These methods will enable people to establish baseline data and distribution maps; identify important wetland habitat types for conservation and measure the response to management such as pest control; and habitat maintenance and restoration.
DOC has been developing ‘call counts’ for banded rails. These take place with either an observer listening for set times at dawn or dusk using call lures, or with new automatic recorders (electronic recorders developed by the DOC Electronics Lab) recording calls remotely.
In addition DOC is actively developing methods for restoring wetlands through its Arawai Kākāriki wetland restoration programme. Restoration involves developing a wide range of management tools including methods for controlling introduced predators, methods for managing water levels and restoring wetland vegetation.
You can help
Banded rail chick
Help protect New Zealand's native birds
- Volunteer with DOC or other groups to control predators and restore bird habitats.
- Don’t throw rubbish into water ways or storm drains.
- Set traps for stoats or rats on your property. Get more information from your local DOC office.
- Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at night.
- Plant a range of native plants that provide food year-round to encourage birds into your garden.
When visiting parks and beaches
- Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep your dog under control.
- Prevent the spread of pests. Check your gear for mice and rats when visiting pest-free islands.
- Use available access ways to get to the beach. Stay out of fenced-off areas. Leave nesting shore birds alone.
- Get your dog trained in avian awareness, and help save forest birds like kiwi and weka.
- Follow the water care code. Keep water craft speed to 5 knots within 200 metres of the shore.