Laysan Rail (Zapornia palmeri)

Laysan rail specimen | image by Palmer via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Common Name: Laysan Rail

Scientific Name: Zapornia palmeri
SizeDietRange in HawaiiStatus in Hawaii
8 in - 9 in.insects, spiders, and snailsLaysan IslandExtinct

The Laysan Rail (Zapornia palmeri) was a small, flightless bird that once inhabited the remote Laysan Island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Sadly, this unique bird is now extinct, with the last known sighting of the species dating back to 1944. The extinction of the Laysan Rail was caused by a combination of habitat loss and predation by non-native species, such as rats and cats.

Despite extensive surveys and conservation efforts to locate the species, none have been found in recent years. The loss of the Laysan Rail serves as a stark reminder of the impact that human activity can have on fragile ecosystems and the importance of conservation efforts to protect endangered species from extinction. In this article, we will delve into the captivating profile of the Laysan Rail, examining its appearance, diet, nesting behavior, and range. Additionally, we will explore the factors that ultimately led to its unfortunate extinction in Hawaii.

Laysan Rail


The Laysan Rail is a small bird with a unique appearance. It measures around 8-9 inches in length. This species features a brownish-black plumage, a short tail, and a slightly curved bill. Its compact size and distinctive coloration make it a captivating sight in its native habitat on Laysan Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.


The Laysan rail is a species of flightless bird endemic to the Hawaiian island of Laysan. As an omnivorous bird, its diet consists of a variety of food sources available in its habitat.

The primary component of the Laysan rail’s diet is made up of invertebrates such as insects, spiders, and snails. These small creatures are an important source of protein and nutrients for the bird. The rail forages on the ground, using its long, slender bill to probe and search for prey in the leaf litter and soil.

In addition to invertebrates, the Laysan rail also consumes plant matter. It feeds on seeds, fruits, and leaves of various native plants found on Laysan Island. These plant materials provide carbohydrates and other essential nutrients to supplement its diet.

Due to the limited availability of food resources on the island, the Laysan rail has adapted to utilize a wide range of food sources. It can scavenge for carrion and opportunistically feed on bird eggs and nestlings of other seabird species, which can serve as an additional food source during times of scarcity.


The Laysan rail is a species of bird that is native to the remote island of Laysan in the Hawaiian archipelago. Nesting behavior plays a crucial role in the reproduction and survival of this species.

The Laysan rail typically constructs its nest on the ground, using various materials available in its habitat. These materials may include leaves, grasses, twigs, and other plant matter. The nest is often a shallow depression lined with softer materials such as feathers or finer vegetation, providing a comfortable and secure environment for incubating eggs.

Breeding pairs of Laysan rails are monogamous, and both the male and female contribute to nest building and caring for the eggs and hatchlings. The female typically lays a clutch of two to four eggs, which are pale in color and speckled with brown markings. The eggs are incubated for about three to four weeks, with both parents taking turns to keep them warm and protected.

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Once the eggs hatch, the parents continue to share the responsibilities of feeding and caring for the chicks. They provide them with a diet primarily consisting of insects and other small invertebrates, which are crucial for their growth and development. The chicks grow rapidly, and within a few weeks, they become independent and capable of foraging for food on their own.


The Laysan rail exhibits various interesting behaviors that contribute to its survival and adaptation in its native habitat on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian archipelago.

One prominent behavior of the Laysan rail is its flightlessness. Like other rails, this species has evolved to be flightless, with reduced wings and strong legs adapted for running. Instead of relying on flight as a primary mode of locomotion, the Laysan rail navigates its surroundings by walking or running swiftly across the ground, using its long toes and powerful legs.

The Laysan rail is a social bird, often forming small groups or pairs. These birds communicate with each other using a range of vocalizations, including calls and chirps. Vocalizations play a vital role in maintaining contact between individuals, defining territories, and signaling potential threats or warnings.

When faced with danger, the Laysan rail exhibits a behavior known as “freezing.” Rather than fleeing, it remains motionless, relying on its excellent camouflage to blend in with the surrounding vegetation and avoid detection by predators. This freeze response can be an effective defense mechanism, allowing the bird to evade potential threats.

In terms of foraging behavior, the Laysan rail is primarily active during the day, spending much of its time searching for food on the ground. It uses its long, slender bill to probe the soil, leaf litter, and vegetation, searching for insects, spiders, snails, and other small invertebrates. The rail also feeds on seeds, fruits, and leaves of various plants, showcasing its omnivorous nature.

During the breeding season, Laysan rails engage in courtship displays to attract mates. These displays involve various behaviors such as calling, preening, wing flapping, and running in circles. Once a pair forms, both male and female participate in nest building, incubating the eggs, and rearing the hatchlings, demonstrating cooperative breeding behavior.

The Laysan rail is a territorial species, with individuals defending their territories against intruders. They may engage in aggressive behaviors, including chasing, pecking, or vocalizing, to protect their nesting sites and resources.

Due to the isolation of Laysan Island and the absence of natural predators, the Laysan rail has evolved with reduced fear of humans. This lack of fear can make the bird more susceptible to disturbances and predation by introduced predators, emphasizing the importance of conservation efforts to preserve its habitat and protect the species.


The Laysan rail is a bird species endemic to Laysan Island, one of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. This island serves as the primary and exclusive habitat for the Laysan rail, as it is not found anywhere else in the world.

Laysan Island is a low-lying coral island characterized by sandy and gravelly substrate with scattered vegetation. The habitat of the Laysan rail consists of several distinct zones, including coastal areas, dunes, grasslands, and shrublands.

The coastal areas of Laysan Island provide a crucial habitat for the Laysan rail. These areas are often sandy or rocky, with patches of vegetation such as beach naupaka, sedge, and other coastal plants. The rail utilizes these areas for foraging, finding small invertebrates and plant materials.

The dunes on Laysan Island are formed by windblown sand and are sparsely vegetated. The Laysan rail may use these dunes for cover and protection from the harsh island winds, as well as for nesting and roosting.

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Grasslands and shrublands make up a significant portion of the Laysan rail’s habitat. These areas are dominated by native grasses and shrubs, such as naio and hinahina. The rail utilizes these vegetation types for foraging, nesting, and seeking shelter.

The limited size of Laysan Island restricts the available habitat for the Laysan rail, which is primarily concentrated in the central and eastern parts of the island. The bird’s habitat is vulnerable to various threats, including habitat degradation caused by invasive species, sea-level rise, and human disturbance.


The Laysan rail is an endemic bird species found exclusively in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Its range is limited to the remote island of Laysan within the Hawaiian archipelago.

Laysan Island, situated in the central part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, is the primary and sole habitat of the Laysan rail. It is a relatively small coral island, covering an area of approximately 1,016 hectares (2,510 acres). This island serves as the focal point of the bird’s entire range.

Conservation Status

The Laysan Rail is currently listed as “Extinct” on the IUCN Red List. The species was last recorded on Laysan Island in 1944, and despite extensive surveys, no individuals have been observed since then.

The extinction of the Laysan Rail is attributed to habitat loss and predation by introduced species, such as rats and cats. Despite being declared extinct, conservation efforts continue to be made to protect and restore the habitat on Laysan Island in the hopes of potentially reintroducing the species in the future.

The story of the Laysan Rail serves as a reminder of the importance of conservation efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats.

Interesting Facts

1. Vulnerable nesting sites

The ground nests of Laysan rails are vulnerable to predation by introduced predators, such as rats and feral cats. Human activities and habitat destruction further threaten their nesting success.

2. Flightlessness

Like many other rail species, the Laysan rail has evolved to be flightless. It has reduced wings and strong legs adapted for running instead of flying.

3. Longevity

Laysan rails have been known to live for up to 10 years in the wild. This lifespan can vary based on factors such as predation, disease, and habitat conditions.

4. Limited genetic diversity

The small population size of Laysan rails on Laysan Island has resulted in reduced genetic diversity. Low genetic diversity can make a species more susceptible to diseases and other threats.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is the Laysan rail flightless?

Like many rail species, the Laysan rail has evolved to be flightless as a result of its isolation and lack of predators on Laysan Island. It has reduced wings and strong legs adapted for running.

2. Can the Laysan rail swim?

While the Laysan rail is not known for its swimming abilities, it may occasionally swim short distances if necessary, such as to reach nearby islets or escape from danger.

3. How does the Laysan rail communicate with each other?

The Laysan rail communicates using a variety of vocalizations. It emits short, high-pitched calls and soft chattering sounds to communicate with its mate, offspring, and other members of its social group.