Wake Island Rail

Wake Island is a tiny Pacific atoll just north of the Marshall Islands, technically a territory of the United States. The Wake Island Rail was a tiny flightless bird who lived there, up until the mid-twentieth century. It fed onĀ molluscs, insects, worms and seeds which it found by digging up leaves and soil with its bill. The ornithologist Alexander Wetmore described the birds in 1923 as very curious, but quick to flee into cover when threatened. It made a sound he described as a “gentle cluck or a low chattering sound.”

The rail’s inability to fly and the isolation of its landscape, combined with the bird’s inquisitiveness made it an easy victim of over-hunting. During World War II the island saw extensive aerial bombardment, and thousands of starving Japanese troops were stranded on the island in the 1940’s. They hunted the bird to extinction by the end of the war.