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Rails Cranes and Relatives: Gruiformes

Cranes, Rails, Relatives, And People

Gruiforms have been important to humans for a variety of reasons. Many species currently or traditionally have been hunted for food. Mesites are hunted for food in their habitats in Madagascar. Many species of buttonquails are also hunted for food, although this became illegal in many countries in 2001. Several species of buttonquails are now farmed as domestic livestock. In addition, some buttonquails play a role in the religious ceremonies of the Australian aborigines, and one species, the barred buttonquail, is used as a fighting bird. Cranes are symbols of good luck in many parts of the world, appearing in some cases as national symbols or on coins. The whooping crane is frequently used as a symbol of conservation because of the extensive effort devoted to saving it from extinction. Limpkins were once hunted for meat. Today their calls represent a significant part of the culture of some aboriginal peoples. Kagus have always been hunted for meat, their feathers have been used for decoration by indigenous cultures, and kagu songs were imitated in war dances. In addition, kagus were once kept as pets by Europeans. They now frequently appear as a symbol of New Caledonia. Rails have been hunted for food and sport throughout the world, and rail eggs are often eaten as well. Some species have also served as fighting birds, incubators of chicken eggs, or as pets. Sunbitterns have been kept as pets. Trumpeters have also been kept as pets or used to guard chicken coops from snakes. They have also been hunted for food. Seriemas are sometimes used to guard chicken coops, again because they kill large numbers of snakes. Bustards make an important contribution to human agriculture by eating large numbers of insect pests. Some bustards are also hunted, particularly in North Africa and Cambodia, in some cases with the use of trained falcons. Finally, many species of Gruiformes attract birdwatchers and ecotourists throughout the world.


Flightlessness has evolved in many bird groups, but is particularly common among gruiforms. Rails that occupy island habitats appear to be especially likely to lose the ability to fly, in part because there are no natural predators on many island habitats. Flightless species have the advantage of no longer having to maintain the large avian flight muscles.

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Animal Life ResourceBirdsRails Cranes and Relatives: Gruiformes - Physical Characteristics, Geographic Range, Habitat, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Cranes, Rails, Relatives, And People