Not so long ago the Woodhen (Gallirallus sylvestris) was considered one of the rarest birds on earth. Endemic to Lord Howe Island, 650 kilometres off the Australian coast, this iconic bird has recovered from near extinction and is the very special subject of our #8 Bird Photography Challenge. This post is dedicated to our dear friend Sue who wasn’t lucky enough to see the Woodhen during the 2013/14 cruise to Lord Howe Island we did together. Merry Christmas, Sue!
What does it look like?
The Woodhen is a small olive brown flightless bird which belongs to the rail family. It is about the size of a bantam, 34 to 42cms long. It has bright chestnut wings, a short tail, bright red eyes and a down-curved bill which is brown at the tip and pink at the base. Its strong legs and feet are pinkish-brown.
Did you know?
The Woodhen declined in numbers after the arrival of settlers right until the late 1970s. The population dropped to less than 30 pairs, confined to the difficult to access summit regions of Mt Gower and Mt Lidgbird. It was on the brink of extinction in 1980 following the introduction of feral pigs and rats. A captive breeding and reintroduction program, together with predator control were crucial to the success of its recovery. Today there are about 250 birds on Lord Howe Island.
How does it behave?
The Woodhen lives in sub-tropical forests. It feeds on worms and insects in the leaf litter, and uses its bill to probe for food. It can also be partial to fruit and is even known to take the eggs of shearwaters and petrels.
Woodhens mate for life. You often see them in pairs, foraging through the undergrowth. This is a highly territorial bird, which aggressively defends its territory even from its own offsprings. Being a curious creature, it will often appear from the forest’s understory to investigate unusual noise, even from people.
Where is it found?
Lord Howe Island is the only home of the Woodhen, which is still classified as vulnerable. Locals told us that it answers to calls, and indeed, it came to investigate our “chook-chook-chook” cries at the top of Mt Gower and down in the woodland areas.
We were delighted to photograph several of these quaint birds with our trusted Canon 60D camera and Tamron 18-270 lens. Click on any image in the gallery to display in full screen. And of course on this Christmas Day, season’s greetings to all.