These are small to medium-sized, secretive, ground-dwelling birds that inhabit a wide range of wetlands around the world. Their long robust legs dangle during flight, which is weak due to their short, rounded wings; consequently they prefer to run from danger than fly away. Their short tails are characteristically cocked or flicked as they walk. Notoriously difficult to see as they skulk among dense reeds or even rice crops, but if not disturbed, can occasionally be seen walking in the open. All species can swim, and some are largely aquatic (coots) having specialized lobes on the toes for swimming and diving. Rails are omnivorous, or predominantly vegetarian. Eight species occur in Java, and two have been recorded in Baluran.
Almost never fly, except when dispersing or migrating at night. When disturbed, may fly very short distance.