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WOODHEN (Gallirallus sylvestris)
Biodiversity > Birds > Land Birds


The most celebrated of the landbirds of Lord Howe Island is the Woodhen, Gallirallus sylvestris, a flightless bird from the rail family, most closely related to the Weka of New Zealand. It is similar in size to a bantam, stands 30 cm high and weighs 400 - 550 grams. The body plumage is olive-brown in colour, although older birds sometimes develop white ear coverts. The wing feathers are chestnut coloured with black bars visible only when the bird spreads its wings. The bill is slightly down-curved, about 50 mm long and pinkish-grey in colour.

Woodhens are very inquisitive and will emerge from thick undergrowth to investigate the source of any unusual noise. This habit made them easy prey for hungry sailors who came ashore for food before settlement in 1834. Then the early settlers hunted them for food, plus brought cats, dogs and pigs that also hunted them. By the 1880s the Woodhen was confined to the mountain summits. The Woodhens managed to survive there in low numbers until scientists from the Australian Museum took interest in the 1970s and planned a successful recovery program that was carried out in the 1980s. The recovery program involved removing feral cats, dogs and pigs from the Island. From a mere 30 birds in 1970, there are now approximately 300 Woodhens living across the Island.

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