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Rare weka relative discovered on Philippine Island

Rare weka relative discovered on Philippine Island

Ornithologists on an expedition to the Calayan Island in the Babuyan Islands in the Philippines have discovered a rare near-flightless rail, related to New Zealand’s weka. It is thought that only 2000 of the Calayan rail (Gallirallus calayanensis) exist. New Zealand rails include weka, takahe, Auckland Island rail, spotless crake, banded rail, marsh crake and pukeko, the first three being unique to New Zealand.

“The discovery of a relative of the weka is wonderful news. This is almost as big as the rediscovery of the takahe was in 1948,” Forest and Bird’s Conservation Manager Kevin Hackwell said.

“A local bylaw banning logging and the absence of introduced pests seems to be the main reasons this bird still survives. The Island’s mayor wants the forests of the island protected which is great news for the survival of the bird,” he said.

The Calayan rail only occurs in an area less than 100 square kilometres and may even be restricted to an area of less than 10km. It lives in forest that grows on old raised coral beds.

“The Calayan rail is a forest bird like its relative the weka,” he said.

“The Calayan rail is almost flightless. This makes it all the more remarkable that it has survived through to the 21st century. Since human settlement, New Zealand has lost too many of its flightless birds to habitat destruction and introduced predators, including three rail species” he said.

“Remarkably, there is still primary forest in the centre of the island, and much of the rest of the island is covered by secondary forest,” explained Des Allen, a veteran of many expeditions to the Philippines, who accompanied the expedition as a volunteer consultant on Asian birds.

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