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Tahiti rail

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Subject: Gallirallus, Tahiti, Flightless bird, Sibley-Monroe checklist 7
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Tahiti rail

Tahiti rail
1773 watercolour by Georg Forster

Extinct  (ca 1930s)  (IUCN 3.1)[1]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Genus: Gallirallus
Species: G. pacificus
Binomial name
Gallirallus pacificus
(Gmelin, 1789)
Location of Tahiti and Mehetia

The Tahiti rail (Gallirallus pacificus) or Tahitian red-billed rail is a poorly known extinct species of rail.


  • Taxonomy 1
  • Description 2
  • Extinction 3
  • References 4


The related buff-banded rail

It once occurred on buff-banded rail stock. The Tahitian name was transcribed as ebōnā or ōmnā (see also below).[2]

Due to a major taxonomic mix-up, the name Rallus ecaudatus was commonly used in the mid-late 20th century to refer to this bird. This is, however, in error, as that taxon is an extant subspecies of the buff-banded rail, today known as Gallirallus philippensis ecaudatus. Also, at least once, the Tahitian bird has been referred to by the scientific name of the Samoan wood rail, Gallinula pacifica, in a major scientific work.[3][4][5][6]


1907 restoration by John Gerrard Keulemans, based on Forster's illustration

Forster's description follows below:

Walter Rothschild commissioned John Gerrard Keulemans to illustrate the bird for his 1907 book, based on Forster's then unpublished drawing. In the bird's entry, Rothschild noted that the legs had been painted too bright right, when they should instead have been flesh-coloured.[4]


Little can be said about the species' disappearance. As with most extinct Pacific rails still encountered alive by scientists, introduced predators are the most likely suspects for its extinction. It may have become extinct soon after Cook's visit, but the bird was still reported to have existed in 1844. Considering that the bird was probably very cryptic, this may have been true. Even more astounding is the claim by locals that it was found until approximately the 1920s on the islet of Mehetia, although this seems hardly true, since the distance between Tahiti and Mehetia is about 100 kilometres (62 mi) and the Tahiti rail was, as mentioned above, flightless. The native name tevea seems to refer to the Mehetia bird. If indeed a rail existed on Mehetia, it is more probable that it was a closely related but distinct species. Considering that Mehetia was not permanently inhabited and thus probably free from predators, it is even quite likely that the late extinction date of that bird is correct. Whether a distinct species could evolve and persist on tiny (2.3 km²) Mehetia is less certain, especially as the island seems to have been subject to heavy volcanic activity in the last 2000 years; an alternative explanation could be that birds were translocated from Tahiti by Polynesian woodcarvers for provisioning during their stays on Mehetia.[7]


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Gmelin, Johann Friedrich (1879): [Description of Gallirallus pacificus]. In: Systema Naturae (13th edition) 1, part 2: 717.
  3. ^ Olson, S. (1977). A synopsis on the fossil Rallidae In: Ripley, S. D.: Rails of the World – A Monograph of the Family Rallidae. Boston: Codline.  
  4. ^ a b c  
  5. ^ Hume, J. P.; Walters, M. (2012). Extinct Birds. London: A & C Black. pp. 92–93.  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Greenway, J. C. (1967). Extinct and Vanishing Birds of the World. New York: American Committee for International Wild Life Protection 13. pp. 218–219.  

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