Gallirallus hypoleucus (Finsch & Hartlaub)

Tongatapu Rail (Gallirallus hypoleucus)

The Tongatapu Rail is actually known only from the description of a single bird that was kept in the collection of Joseph Banks, a naturalist who took part in James Cook’s fisrt voyage from 1768 to 1771; this description can be found in John Latham’s ‘A general synopsis of birds’ from 1781-85.:

The head in this variety is paler, and the streak over the eye grey: the hind part of the neck transversely striated brown and white: the middle of the back, and scapulars, white, with a very little mixture of brown on the first: wing coverts olive brown, transversely blotched with white; second quills white on the inner webs, on the outer olive brown; the greater quills olive brown, marked with large ferruginous spots; the first wholly white, the second white within: tail even with the end of the quills, barred olive brown and white: all the under parts white: bill and legs pale yellow brown.” [1][2]

The Tongatapu Rail mysteriously managed to somehow survive into the 18th century, its population, however, may already have been more or less crushed when the single specimen was taken in 1773 (?) during Cook’ second voyage, and the species died out completely shortly after.


There is a drawing made by Georg Forster in 1774 (?), which is often referred to as showing this rail species, this, however, is false since this drawing was in fact made from a bird taken on the island of Nomuka and shows no other bird than the Tongan Buff-banded Rail (Gallirallus philippensis ssp. ecaudatus (J. F. Miller)) (see depiction below).



[1] John Latham: A general synopsis of birds. London: Printed for Benj. White 1781-1785
[2] D. G. Medway: The Tongatapu rail Gallirallus hypoleucus (Finsch & Hartlaub, 1867) – an extinct species resurrected?. Notornis 57 (4): 199–203. 2010


Tongan Buff-banded Rail (Gallirallus philippensis ssp. ecaudatus)

Depiction: Georg Forster, 1774 

(public domain)


edited: 22.05.2019