Crakes, rails, swamphens, coots and moorhens are all in the same family: Rallidae. Birders often call them “rallids” for short. They, and the flufftails, are some of the most secretive of all wetlands birds and are experts at staying hidden in the thick plants. Thank goodness that these birds have such distinctive calls, because otherwise we would never even have known they were there!

Red-knobbed Coot
Bleshoender

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Although they are in the Swimmers chapter of the book, coots and moorhens are also part of the big Rallidae family, with crakes and rails. These were some tame coots on a small dam in park – I recorded them at close range with my phone! They sound like they’re saying their name “coot” but with a blocked nose. The second part of the clip is a pair that was building their floating nest on a dam on a golf course.

Common Moorhen
Grootwaterhoender

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Although you’ll find the moorhens in the Swimmers chapter of the book, they are also part of the Rallidae family (with crakes, rails, swamphens and gallinules). Common (or Euasian) Moorhens make a great variety of simple, nervous-sounding clacks and rattles. If there is any sort of loud noise or splash they immediately call to each other, even at night. They can sound similar to coots, but usually call from within reeds.

Lesser Moorhen
Kleinwaterhoender

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Lesser Moorhens arrive on floodplains after a lot of rain. When the conditions are good they can be super abundant. I recorded these in such a flood year at Vogelfontein on the Nyl floodplain in Nylsvley Nature Reserve. They were calling everywhere in the tall rice grass, even at night! The first part of the clip seems to be song; the rest of the clip are various interactions and little fights. Such a cool sound to experience!

African Swamphen
Grootkoningriethaan

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I love swamphens! They make such a great variety of funny, almost “embarassing” sounds: grunts, squeals, clacks, clicks, moans, groans, crackles and shrieks. This clip is a mix of my recordings from various places: the Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain, Marievale Bird Sanctuary and Vioolsdrif on the Orange River. The last part of the clip sounds like a baby hippo! You can hear the male and female answering each other.

African Rail
Grootriethaan

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Rails can give you quite a fright in the reedbeds! Their call is a very sudden and very loud “explosion” that starts with a hysterical rattle and then slows down. Often the male and female will call together, and nearby pairs answer immediately. This is the best way to find these secretive birds. But seeing them is easier said than done. The best strategy is to visit very early in the morning and check carefully at edges.

African Crake
Afrikaanse Riethaan

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The first part of this clip was recorded by my friend Derek Solomon in Zambia. This is the song of the male (doesn’t sound much like a song does it?). You’ll hear some African Bullfrogs making that whop-whop sound in the background. The second part I recorded on a floodplain in Limpopo Province. Both sexes make this sound, especially when they are fighting, when they are concerned or just after they’ve landed.

Striped Crake
Gestreepte Riethaan

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One of my favourite bird calls. The first part sound a bit like a weaver’s song. But the second part of the recording is the amazing rattling song of the female. Remember, in Striped Crakes it is the female (not the male) who sings. “Song” is not the right word though – the female makes this strange rattle by clacking her upper and lower bill together. It can continue for many minutes. This was recorded at night.

Black Crake
Swartriethaan

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This is an important wetland sound to get to know. And how weird it is! If you listen closely you can hear that it is actually two different birds calling together. Listen to the end bit: one bird calls kree and the other groo. Sometimes the whole family will get together and call while crouched in a little circle. This recording was made at very close range; you can even hear the grasses rattling as the birds move about. Very cool!

Red-chested Flufftail
Rooiborsvleikuiken

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I can still remember the first time I heard this sound as a kid. I discovered some flufftails in a wetland near my house and I was very excited. The hooting sound is the male: a short hoot about once every second: hoop…hoop…hoop. The penetrating chewy-chewy-chewy… at the end is a territorial call. Flufftails are incredibly difficult to see!¬†This bird was calling from literally next to my foot, yet I never even saw it.

Streaky-breasted Flufftail
Streepborsvleikuiken

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Few birders have been lucky enough to see this shy and rare little skulker. They are tropical birds that arrive after flood and a lot of rain in the summer. The male’s hooting call is slower than Red-chested’s: about one hoot every 2-3 seconds. Be careful: the faster hoots in the background are from an Acacia Pied Barbet! There is also a variation where the hoots are higher, longer and have two syllables.

Striped Flufftail
Gestreepte Vleikuiken

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This is an interesting clip because I recorded the two parts in completely different places. The first bit, with the hooting, was in short mountain grassland and ferns on a high plateau in Malawi. This is the male’s song: a long hoot of about 1 second. They sometimes make this call at night too! The second part, that penetrating ki-ki-ki…ker-ker-ker... was recorded in thick fynbos in the Western Cape.

Buff-spotted Flufftail
Gevlekte Vleikuiken

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There are all sorts of myths and legends about this ghostly sound. That’s because you hear it at night, in rain or when it is misty, but the caller remains invisible. The males make this long 3-4 second hoot, inflating their bodies in a big ball while they call. You can hear this up to 2.8 km far! The hooting can continue for hours and hours and can drive you mad. Especially if you can’t figure out where it’s coming from!

  • Please be careful not to disturb birds too much if you’re playing their sounds.
  • All the sound and images on this page are copyright Faansie Peacock/Firefinch App.
  • To hear all the bird sounds, check out my Firefinch app on App Store/Google Play.