The Black crake is native to sub-Saharan Africa. This water bird is a member of the same family that includes coots, rails and gallinules. Both genders are alike. Adults have mainly black plumage, the wings and upperparts having a brown, olive tone. In the wild, its color appears as slate-black. Its eyes are red and its bill is bright yellow. Its feet and legs are bright red, duller when not breeding. The juvenile is a dull brown and has a dark greenish bill. Its feet and legs are a dull red.
The Black crake is a species from sub-Saharan Africa, absent from the desert areas of South West and North East Africa. This bird frequents different types of freshwater habitats, preferring the dense undergrowth of wet clearings in wooded regions, and the grassy marshes of open areas. Habitats for this species include still and flowing inland freshwaters like ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and seasonal pans, as well as temporary flooded areas beside rivers; preferably fringed with rank grass, sedges, papyrus, reed beds, swampy thickets, bushes, or some other vegetation. These birds need tangled vegetation for taking cover, roosting and nesting. They may undertake seasonal movements in parts of their range where drought occurs.
The Black crake feeds during the day and mainly after it has rained, foraging in cultivated areas, dry ground and short grass, sometimes feeding some distance from cover. Rails are usually very secretive, but Black crakes are often out in the open, walking on their long toes on the floating vegetation along the shores. During the breeding season it is territorial. When establishing the breeding territory, there is increasing calling. Black crakes can become very aggressive and attack other species of rail. They are mostly sedentary but migrate locally. The populations in the drier parts of their range appear when the rains come, and leave in the dry season. Their main call is in the form of a duet that starts with a “krrok-krrraa”, which is repeated, and then the other bird replies with a soft cooing that sounds like “coo-crr-COO”. Sometimes other members of the family join in, all crouched in a circle, calling in duets, with the volume increasing. A sharp “chip” is the alarm call. The contact calls is a softer “bup”or “pruk”.
Black crakes are omnivores, they eat aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates like worms, crustaceans, mollusks, insect adults and larvae, tadpoles, small frogs and small fish. They may eat the eggs and nestlings of herons and weavers. They eat seeds and parts of aquatic plants, and also scavenge on carcasses of small birds, crabs and crayfish.
Black crakes are serially monogamous and form pair-bonds that last for at least one breeding season. They breed all through the year when there are suitable conditions, with peaks during the rains or following them. Courtship behavior involves feeding and mutual preening, wing movements and displays of bowing. During the breeding season they are more vocal. This species typically nests in vegetation above water; however, these birds may nest floating on the water, on the ground, or even in bushes as high as three meters above ground. Their nest consists of a deep bowl where 3 white eggs with brown spots are laid. The parents share incubation for 13 - 19 days, the chicks leaving their nest when they are three days old. Both the parents and helpers (being the young of an earlier brood) feed them for 3-6 weeks. At 5-6 weeks old they can fly, but until the following breeding season they stay within the family group. Black crakes produce as many as four broods each season, and the next laying can take place when chicks reach 3 weeks old.
Black crakes are common and widespread within their African range. The only threat to the Black crake in the region is in Malawi and Nigeria, where the bird is hunted for food and for use in traditional medicine. Being a wetlands dependent species, populations in areas near agricultural development are under threat from water contamination. Eggs and nestlings are killed by various mammals, birds and reptiles.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Black crake population size is around one million individuals. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.