OBSERVATIONS OF A SLATY-LEGGED CRAKE NEST

BOB KAUFMAN REPORTS ON HIS OBSERVATIONS OF A SLATY-LEGGED CRAKE NEST. This was taken with his permission from his blog Two Birders to Go.

AND THE NEST, THEY SAY, IS HISTORY
photos and text by Bob Kaufman

“Today, we are witnessing a Philippine ornithology historical event!”, I proudly declared to my wife, Cynthia, and to our birding buddy, Neon.

When we first heard the news a couple of weeks ago from John and Vivette, our friends from church, that an unusual bird has laid some eggs in their neighbor’s garden, we were very intrigued. Our curiosity was even more stoked when Vivette sent photos of the bird and the eggs through her cellphone. First and foremost in our minds was, what bird was it? Inasmuch as the nest was found in a gated subdivision in Antipolo City, we had to arrange for the our friends to inform the gate guards to let us in. As soon as we arrived at their house, Vivette immediately took us to the residence of Leoncio and Linda. Linda was very excited as she ushered us to where the nest was, which surprisingly, was on one of her flower pots located about a meter from the ground and about two meters away from the street!

We peered into it and were dumbfounded to see a dark-colored bird with a bright rufous head, neck and breast. I quickly pulled out my Kennedy guide. Leafing through the pages, we narrowed down the identity of the mysterious bird to three possibilities: Red-legged Crake, Ruddy-breasted Crake and Slaty-legged Crake. Since the crake in question is sitting on the nest, we couldn’t see the color of the legs. Red-legged Crake is  very rare, so that couldn’t be it. The book says the Ruddy-breasted is about 7 1/2 inches in length. The bird we’re looking at is definitely bigger than that. We concluded that our nesting waterbird was a Slaty-legged Crake. Continuing my perusal of the description of this species, I was suddenly speechless as I repeatedly pointed to my wife the line that says “Nest and eggs not described from Philippines”!

That was the start of our regular pilgrimage to this reverent place as we monitored the progress of the nesting habits of Rallina eurizonoides, now that we have become aware of the importance of what was happening right before our very eyes. This was Philippine ornithological history in the making.

And today, 20 days after the hen started sitting on her four eggs, they hatched. Mom and chicks were all doing well. Dad was nearby, waiting for his brood to join him as they forage for food.

Based on our observations, here are some data that describes the nesting behavior of the Slaty-legged Crake:

1) The nest was about a meter above ground and consisted of dried grass, dried leaves and pine needles. It was quite shallow, only about two inches deep.

2) There were a total of four eggs which were plain white in color (no spots nor streaks). They were laid one egg per day. On the fourth day, after all the eggs had been laid, the crake started sitting on them.


3) Total incubation period was 20 days. There were times when the eggs were left unattended while the parent(s) hunted for food. We were not 100% sure if both parents took turns at sitting on the eggs.

4) The newly-hatched chicks were blackish in color. We expect them to be out of the nest by tomorrow (the 21st day).

We went back to the Slaty-legged Crake nest on the 21st day. The adult was still sitting on the nest. But then we noticed tiny black heads pop-up every now and then. The chicks, it seemed, were getting restless. The hen (we presumed it was the Mom) however, was not budging. Neon set up his gear and waited. Meanwhile, Cynthia and I took her 7 year old grandson to look for the reported “bayawak” (monitor lizard) that had been seen in the neighborhood. Just as we were about to reach the site of the lizard sighting, Neon called and excitedly announced that the chicks had jumped the nest. I hurried back. Panting and gasping for air I looked and saw an already empty nest.

Neon informed me that the family was still nearby skulking among the greenery surrounding the nest area.   So we decided to stake out the place – Neon standing close to the pond and me near the nest. We waited for what seemed like an eternity. Occasionally we would catch glimpses of the adult and one or two chicks. But that was it. At half past eleven, I approached Neon to tell him that I would be calling it a day. He was bargaining for a few more minutes when we saw BOTH adults escorting their brood towards our direction. With bated breaths we waited for them to reappear. Several minutes passed and the Crake family still remained unseen.

Leaving Neon behind, I proceeded to walk back to get ready to go home. It was then that I saw all four chicks across the street frantically trying to hurdle the 5 inches of cement to get over to the sidewalk and go where their Mom was constantly urging them on.

“Neon, the chicks are here!” I yelled waving like crazy at him to get his attention. When I looked back, there were only 3 chicks left. I assumed one of them made it safely over the “wall”. The mother crake was “tuk-tuk”ing at the embankment next to the sidewalk encouraging her babies to follow her. When Neon joined me, one of the chicks got through some vegetation over the sidewalk. We couldn’t see it after that. Neon placed some ramps and asked me to shoo the chicks towards them so that they could use it to climb. One chick made it. The last one, which we assumed to be the weakest, missed the ramp. Looking at it closely, we noticed that it had been swarmed by vicious ants. At first we were afraid to touch the chick lest the human smell would cause the parent to abandon it. But we couldn’t let ants torture the poor, day-old crake. Neon gingerly picked it up and patiently removed every ant from its legs and body. Having been assured that no ant was left behind, Neon then placed the chick on the ground where the Mom was pacing back and forth still calling for her babies.

note the ants on the feet

and on the thigh

Neon and I could not leave the place. We were worried about what happened to the first three chicks that were able to get on the sidewalk on their own. Were they able to rejoin their parents? Or were they themselves attacked by ants?

It was only after we could no longer hear the “tuk-tuk” of the adult that we decided to leave. But then another thought bothered us. What if the parents decided to bring their brood to the pond, which means they have to cross the street again. And encounter the elevated sidewalk once more.

With heavy hearts we left the nesting place. We both agreed to just let nature take its course. I was in near tears when I told Cynthia about this totally unexpected event (she was in our host’s house while all this was happening).

I just hope and pray that this episode will not end tragically.

Now for further observations on the nesting habits of the Slaty-legged Crake:

1) The empty nest does not have eggshells left on it. The adults presumably ate them after the chicks have hatched.

2) The chicks leave the nest on the 21st day. They are precocial. They are black all over including legs and beak. The tip of the beak is lighter though.

This is a video of the Slaty-legged chicks jumping off the nest one day after they hatched

video by NEON ROSSEL II

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