Gallirallus sp. 'Norfolk Island'

Norfolk Island Rail
(Gallirallus sp.)

syn. -


Australia: Norfolk Island / Norfolk Islands

local name: -

size: ca. 32 to 42 cm (length (?))

extinction date: ca. 1800

The Buff-banded Rail (Gallirallus philippensis) occurs in a wide geographical range that reaches from the Philippine Islands over Australia and New Guinea into western Polynesia. The species is still extending its distribution into new areals, for example it (probably the Fijian subspecies Gallirallus p. sethsmithi) has colonized the Niulakita atoll in Tuvalu in 1972 and established a breeding population.

Somewhat more than twenty subspecies are recognized, some of them may of course not really be valid.

Norfolk Island harbours the Australian subspecies (Gallirallus p. mellori) which also occurs on the neighbouring Lord Howe Island and which was once treated as a distinct, endemic subspecies.


Based on subfossil remains it is now known that this subspecies did occur on Norfolk Island in pre-European times as well. Furthermore it is known, that at the same time the island was home for another, now extinct species of the genus.

This species doesn't seem to have been scientifically described up to now. It was larger and stouter than the closely related Buff-banded Rail, furthermore it was, as many island-dwelling rail species, flightless.


Contemporary depictions of rails, drawn on Norfolk Island by John Hunter in the year 1790, and others made by the unknown artist of the 'Album of watercolour drawings of Australian natural history' at around 1800, which actually are nothing but copies of Hunter's pictures, are officially regarded as showing the Buff-banded Rail.

But when these drawings are compared to contemporary depictions of similar quality, it soon stick out that these pictures do not show Buff-banded Rails, but yet another - namely just this nameless - species.


Norfolk Island Rail (Gallirallus sp.)

Depiction from 'Album of watercolour drawings of Australian natural history, owned by Robert Anderson Seton, ca. 1800'

by courtesy of Jennifer Broomhead / State Library of New South Wales


- Trevor H. Worthy, Richard N. Holdaway: The Lost World of the Moa, Prehistoric Life of New Zealand. Indiana University Press, Bloomington 2002
- David W. Steadman: Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds. University Of Chicago Press 2006