Swinhoe's Rail Coturnicops exquisitus


Justification of Red List Category
This poorly known rail is estimated to have a small population, which is declining as a result of the loss and fragmentation of wetlands in its breeding and wintering ranges. It therefore qualifies as Vulnerable.

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number c.2,500-9,999 mature individuals, based on recent records and surveys by BirdLife International (2001). This estimate equates to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals. National population estimates include: < c.100 breeding pairs and < c.50 individuals on migration in China, < c.50 individuals on migration and < c.50 wintering individuals in Korea, < c.50 wintering individuals in Japan and < c.100 breeding pairs and < c.50 individuals on migration in Russia (Brazil 2009).

Trend justification
The conversion of wetland habitats is suspected to be driving a moderate decline in this species's population.

Distribution and population

Coturnicops exquisitus is known to breed at a handful of sites in south-eastern Russia and north-eastern China (BirdLife International 2001), with recent reports of possible breeding in Aomora Prefecture, Japan (S. Chan in litt. 2003). It has been recorded on passage and in winter in Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Japan (including the Nansei Shoto Islands) and southern and eastern China. Its breeding and wintering ranges are inadequately known and it is probably very rare and declining. It is considered to be uncommon in mainland China, although surveys at Poyang Hu lake, Jiangxi, in the early 1980s, recorded 5-30 birds per km2. Between 10-20 singing males were seen in Muraviovka Park in 2016 (Heim in litt. 2016) 


Its ecology is poorly known. It has been recorded in wet, grassy meadows and tussock-swamps in the lowlands, reed-swamps, grassy swamps near rivers, rice-fields and around streams and pools with thick cover.


The main population stress is thought to be from the destruction and modification of wetlands in both its breeding and wintering ranges owing to a number of threatening processes. Habitat in south-eastern Russia is being reduced as a result of drainage and ploughing for conversion of wetlands to agriculture. In China, the Zhalong National Nature Reserve is threatened by agricultural encroachment, reed-harvesting, hunting and water extraction for agriculture. The Poyang Hu Nature Reserve is threatened by vegetation cutting, reclamation for agriculture, construction of the Three Gorges Dam and illegal hunting. The over-use of pesticides may affect it.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
It is legally protected in China, South Korea and Japan. It occurs in a number of protected areas including Khanakiski (Khanka) and Khinganski State Reserves (Russia), Mongol Daguur Nature Reserve (single record) (Mongolia), and Xingkai Hu (Lake Khanka), Zhalong National Nature Reserve and Poyang Hu Nature Reserve (China).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey its potential breeding range in Russia and north-eastern China to identify its population size and distribution. As a result of surveys, identify key areas and recommend protection where necessary. Survey and monitor key non-breeding sites including at Poyang lake and other large wetlands in the Yangtze valley. Research its ecological requirements and identify key threats. Improve protection of its habitat in Russia and in protected areas in China, as well as on the wintering grounds.


13 cm. Tiny, compact, buffish rail. Blackish top of head and upperparts. Conspicuous cinnamon stripes and thin white bars from mantle to tail. Greyish-brown face. White underparts with tawny-ochre barring on foreneck, upper breast, flanks and undertail-coverts. White secondaries. Similar spp. White secondaries and white barring on upperparts separate it from all sympatric rails.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Crosby, M., Peet, N., Taylor, J., North, A., Martin, R

Heim, W., He, F., Chan, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Coturnicops exquisitus. Downloaded from on 27/03/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/03/2023.