Family Rails, Gallinules, Coots (Rallidae)

Critically Endangered

Zapata Rail (Cyanolimnas cerverai)

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Taxonomy

French: Râle de Zapata German: Kubaralle Spanish: Polluela de Zapata
Taxonomy:

Cyanolimnas cerverai

Barbour and J. L. Peters

, 1927,

Santo Tomás, Península de Zapata, Cuba

.

Monotypic.

Distribution:

Zapata Swamp, in WC Cuba.

Descriptive notes

29 cm. Apparently almost flightless; wings very short; tail short and decomposed. Dark rail without streaks or spots, faintly barred on lower belly and thighs and has white undertail-coverts. Sexes alike. Easily separable by plumage from sympatric rallids, but resembles smaller Neocrex colombianus and N. erythrops; former differs in unbarred cinnamon-buff flanks and undertail-coverts; latter has much heavier barring from flanks to undertail-coverts. Considered intermediate in plumage characters between N. colombianus and larger Pardirallus sanguinolentus, which has unbarred dusky brown to blackish rear flanks and undertail-coverts, and a much longer, slightly decurved, greenish-yellow bill with blue and red at base. Immature undescribed. Juvenile reported to be duller, without any red on bill and has olivaceous legs#R.

Drawing by Hilary Burn
Descriptive notes:

29 cm. Apparently almost flightless; wings very short; tail short and decomposed. Dark rail without streaks or spots, faintly barred on lower belly and thighs and has white undertail-coverts. Sexes alike. Easily separable by plumage from sympatric rallids, but resembles smaller Neocrex colombianus and N. erythrops; former differs in unbarred cinnamon-buff flanks and undertail-coverts; latter has much heavier barring from flanks to undertail-coverts. Considered intermediate in plumage characters between N. colombianus and larger Pardirallus sanguinolentus, which has unbarred dusky brown to blackish rear flanks and undertail-coverts, and a much longer, slightly decurved, greenish-yellow bill with blue and red at base. Immature undescribed. Juvenile reported to be duller, without any red on bill and has olivaceous legs#R.

Voice

Alarm call a loud “kwowk”, much like that of Limpkin (Aramus guarauna). Subsequent vocal descriptions, including reported song, and the only known sound recording attributed to this species#R#R#R, are now known not to relate to Cyanolimnas and most, if not all, in fact pertain to Pardirallus maculatus#R#R, which is a common inhabitant of the same sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) swamps.

Habitat

Dense bush-covered swamp with low trees, where Myrica cerifera, Salix longipes, sawgrass (Cladium jamaicensis) and cattails (Typha angustifolia) are common, but with C. jamaicensis dominant#R, often near higher ground.

Food and feeding

No information available, but speculated to include tadpoles and aquatic invertebrates#R.

Breeding

Males in breeding condition, Jan, and season speculated to be Nov–Jan#R. Juveniles observed Nov and Jan#R. One nest thought to be of this species, found in early Sept (1982), was sited c. 60 cm above water level in a hummock of sawgrass, and contained three uniform white eggs, but there must be considerable doubt attached to this record#R.

Movements

None.

Status and conservation

CRITICALLY ENDANGERED. Known from only four sites in Zapata Swamp, Matanzas, WC Cuba. Four were collected near Santo Tomás in Mar–Jun 1927 and species was easily found in Jan 1931, with additional specimens being collected until 1934#R; subsequently no records, despite occasional searches, until 1970s, when birds observed and photographed at a second locality, Laguna del Tesoro, c. 65 km from the first. Found at two further sites, Peralta and Hato de Jicarita, in 1998#R. Vocalizations previously attributed to this species, and the source of some 1970s records from Laguna del Tesoro, are now known to be those of Spotted Rail (see Voice). Although Zapata Swamp covers 4500 km², the herbaceous swampy habitat favoured by the rail has a total extent of 1820 km²#R. Despite likely occurrence in other areas of the swamp, the very small number of records (the most recent in Nov 2014)#R in recent decades (and none documented since the last specimens were taken) suggests that population is very small, almost certainly fewer than 250 mature individuals. Serious threats include dry-season burning of habitat, potentially devastating for the species and ongoing, as well as the existence of introduced predators, namely mongoose (Herpestes) and rats (Rattus). Exotic African catfish (Clarias gariepinus) introduced in 2000 may also predate juveniles; indeed, there is anecdotal evidence of a dramatic decline in the population of all species of rail in Zapata Swamp since the arrival of the catfish. The swamp has to date escaped serious drainage. Species has been afforded protection with an area of 10,000 ha in the Corral de Santo Tomás Faunal Refuge, while Laguna del Tesoro lies within a Nature Tourism Area, and all of the known sites are inside a national park; the benefits of this protection are unknown. Comprehensive survey of the bird’s distribution urgently needed, and dry-season burning of its habitats must be controlled. Former distribution was wider, and fossil bones attributed to this species have been found in cave deposits in Pinar del Río, La Habana and Sancti Spíritus provinces, and on I of Pines.

Recommended citation

Taylor, B., Kirwan, G.M. & Sharpe, C.J. (2018). Zapata Rail (Cyanolimnas cerverai). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/53671 on 18 January 2018).