North American Birds

VOLUME 69 NO2 2016

A Quarterly Journal of Ornithological Record Published by the American Birding Association. The mission of the journal is to provide a complete overview of the changing panorama of our continent’s birdlife.

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191 V O L U M E 6 9 ( 2 0 1 6 ) • N U M B E R 2 R U F O U S - N E C K E D W O O D - R A I L I N N E W M E X I C O that presumption. The species is monotypic throughout its distribution, which suggests some gene flow among populations. Rufous- necked Wood-Rail appears in distributional summaries of specimens, in brief notations in country-by-country compendia and field guides, and in taxonomic analyses, but the species has never been the focus of an in- depth study anywhere, as evidenced by the near absence of basic natural history infor- mation concerning breeding or other life history traits. The lack of natural history information for such a geographically widespread species is impressive, but also impressive is how the published literature, when taken together, differs from the prevailing view that this is largely or entirely a sedentary species of coastal lagoons. There are multiple refer- ences, either stated or implied, that suggest seasonal, altitudinal, or vagrant movements, and others that point out the use of widely varied habitats. To date, most speculation concerning possible regular movements rests on negative data (e.g., apparent ab- sence during certain periods) and remains to be confirmed. What is clear, however, given the pattern of occurrences across the range, is that this species, in common with some other rallids, is capable of moving consider- distinctive large rail with white throat, ru- fous-chestnut breast and belly, blackish vent, bluish gray mantle, olive upperwings, red legs, and heavy, greenish yellow bill—was a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides axil- laris) (Figures 1-4). As the bird was no longer in view, Daw drove to the refuge headquarters to alert the staff, who contacted several local birders. He returned to the site, where the rail reap- peared in about 30 minutes, and local bird- ers began to arrive shortly thereafter. The rail continued to be seen intermittently through that afternoon. The wood-rail was usually seen as it foraged about the edges of dense cattails bordering the shallow pond south of the boardwalk. It would venture out onto the mudflats and occasionally into the water to feed, often in company with Least Bitterns and Virginia Rails (Rallus limicola); crayfish (Cambaridae) seemed to be the favored food item. The wood-rail occasionally flew from one side of the pond to the other. Early in its stay, the wood-rail was clearly sensitive to disturbance, and would hurry to the safety of cover in response to loud noises or other threatening activities. Toward the end, how- ever, it seemed to grow more tolerant of hu- man activities taking place on the nearby boardwalk. As the pond gradually dried, the wood-rail and other species would venture farther from the cattails and into the shallow water, feeding on the crustaceans and other organisms concentrated there. Toward the end of its stay, it became increasingly vocal at dawn and dusk, including the evening and morning when last detected. All of these observed behaviors are consistent with those observed in the species' range (e.g., Parker et al. 1995, Fagan and Komar, in press). James Holmes recorded the bird's vocal- izations at 2025 MDT on 17 July, when it called three times, with about three-minute intervals between bouts of calling. The call - ing consisted of a series of 6-10 incisive, loud keep or pik notes. A video with audio by John Arnett, made 13 July, contains the same type of calls, one of the most familiar vocal - izations associated with the species, called a "song" by most authors (see Boyer 2014). The bird was last detected three days before the full moon, on 18 July. During its twelve-day stay, the wood- rail was observed by hundreds of birders. It quickly became an "event" much publicized by local and national media, and it drew observers from throughout North Ameri- ca. At any given time, some 20-30 birders typically could be found at the site, either watching the rail or looking for it; we esti- mate that, at a minimum, the rail attracted about 100 observers per day, or well over 1000 during its stay and the several days after it was last seen. Rufous-necked Wood-Rail: status and distribution To put the 2013 New Mexico occurrence into the context of what is known about the species, Williams contacted knowledgeable authorities and reviewed available infor- mation from throughout the range of the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, paying special attention to evidence of possible move- ments. The species has an extensive but highly fragmented distribution, occurring from northwestern and southeastern Mexico south through Central America to north- ern South America, thence south to Peru on the Pacific slope and east to Suriname on the Caribbean coast (Blake 1977, Tay- lor 1996, Dickinson and Remsen 2013). It is found on offshore islands up to 128 km from continental landmasses and on interior mountains up to 1800 m in elevation. The species historically has been considered to be resident where found, but absence of ad- equate data from most locales complicates Figure 2. This image is from the original video taken of the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail taken 7 July 2013. This may be the first time that a first United States record was established by a "background bird" in footage of another species, here a Least Bittern. Photograph by Matthew Daw.

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