Justification of Red List Category
This species's future hold on its mainland range is precarious, with a complex array of threats causing rapid declines resulting in local extinctions. Its situation may be unique in that the species remains numerous on a very large number of islands. Whilst population declines have slowed to an extent over the last ten years, the species is projected to undergo rapid population declines over the next decade based on extrapolation from historic trends, the absence of any change in the threatening processes, and the impact of climate change. It is therefore considered Vulnerable.
The population of subspecies australis is estimated to number 50,000-100,000 individuals, although with large fluctuations; subspecies greyi c.11,000 (A. J. Beauchamp in litt. 2012); subspecies hectori 38,000-58,000 on Chatham and Pitt Islands, and subspecies scotti fewer than 8,000 on the islands surrounding Stewart Island (A. J. Beauchamp in litt. 2012). On the basis of these estimates, the total population is thought to number 107,000-177,000 individuals, probably including 71,000-118,000 mature individuals.
This species's population is suspected to have continued to decrease at some level during this decade, in line with previous background declines; notably, significant declines in G. a. greyi since the early 1980s and dramatic fluctuations in G. a. australis, that have included plummeting numbers in north Westland, with declines of over 90% in c.20 years (S. Bartle in litt. 2000) and declines in Golden Bay (A. J. Beauchamp in litt. 2012). Future population declines are predicted to intensify, as climate change is likely to increase the probability of such events occurring, particularly for small island populations (G. Bramley in litt. 2012).
Gallirallus australis is endemic to New Zealand. Subspecies greyi is mostly restricted to the east coast of the North Island; it experienced significant declines and local extinctions from the 1900s, and the remnant population underwent a significant decline after the early 1980s, falling to c.4,000 birds (Beauchamp et al. 1999, D. King in litt. 1999, A. J. Beauchamp in litt. 2000, G. Bramley in litt. 2012). Several releases to former mainland habitats have been attempted, but most have been largely unsuccessful (Beauchamp et al. 1999) owing to high levels of predation. However, introduced populations at Russell and Kawakawa Bay, as well as the main remnant population on the east coast of the North Island between Motu and Opitiki, have all expanded and the total population size of this subspecies is now estimated at c.11,000 individuals (A. J. Beauchamp in litt. 2012). Nominate australis remains locally common in north and west South Island (Heather and Robertson 1997, Beauchamp et al. 1999), but numbers fluctuate dramatically, even in large populations (Beauchamp et al. 1999). In north-west Nelson, numbers plummeted by c.95% (A. J. Beauchamp in litt. 2000), in north Westland, counts indicate declines of over 90% in c.20 years (S. Bartle in litt. 2000), and declines were also noted in Fiordland. However, a number of reintroductions and predator control for the benefit of a number of threatened mainland species have led to recent increases in parts of the South Island (A. J. Beauchamp in litt. 2008), although predator control appears not be a major factor in facilitating such increases (G. Bramley in litt. 2012). Subspecies hectori is now extinct in its natural range, but was introduced to Chatham and Pitt Islands where it may number 38,000-58,000 birds (A. J. Beauchamp in litt. 2000), and survives a take of 5,000 birds annually (Beauchamp et al. 1999). Some individuals of this subspecies have been returned to islands on lakes in the South Island, with much success, and mainland releases have taken place, using predator fencing, although these have suffered heavy predation pressure even with intensive management (A. J. Beauchamp in litt. 2008, 2012, G. Bramley in litt. 2012). Subspecies scotti became extinct on Stewart Island in the 1990s (D. King in litt. 1999), but introduced populations survive on surrounding islands (Heather and Robertson 1997). Their total numbers are thought to be less than 8,000 and declining (A. J. Beauchamp in litt. 2008). Overall, the four races are present (many as introduced populations) on more than 70, mostly tiny, offshore islands (Beauchamp et al. 1999). Whilst there have been no major declines in the last ten years, future population crashes are predicted, as climate change is likely to increase the probability of such events occurring, and inbreeding depression remains a challenge (G. Bramley in litt. 2012).
It utilises most habitats, including forests, grasslands, scrub, inland and coastal wetlands and even semi-urban environments. It is omnivorous, taking mostly fruit and invertebrates, but also vertebrates (Marchant and Higgins 1993, Beauchamp et al. 1999). Birds breed in their first year and eggs are laid year-round (Bramley and Veltman 2000).
Rapid declines are due to a combination of habitat clearance and degradation, road-kills, a wide range of introduced mammalian predators and competitors, combinations of drought and flood years, poison baits used for possum and rabbit control, and possibly disease (Heather and Robertson 1997, Beauchamp et al. 1998, 1999; D. King in litt. 1999). Birds have been eradicated from several islands due to possible risks to other native biota, and removal from Pitt and other islands is a future possibility (Beauchamp et al. 1999).
Conservation Actions Underway
Further island translocations are planned (Beauchamp et al. 1999). Surveys of distribution and density are presently being completed in parts of the mainland range considered to be strongholds (D. King in litt. 1999, A. J. Beauchamp in litt. 2000).
46-60 cm. Large, flightless, brown rail. Sexes similar though female smaller. High geographical variation in plumage. Subspecies australis and scotti have chestnut, grey and black morphs, hectori is palest, and greyi is similar to grey morph of australis. Voice Territorial call loud, repeated coo-eet.
Text account compilers
Bird, J., Khwaja, N., Mahood, S., Benstead, P., McClellan, R., Harding, M., Taylor, J.
Weeber, B., Bartle, S., Hitchmough, R., Bramley, G., King, D., Beauchamp, A.
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Gallirallus australis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/04/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/04/2021.