Living Bird Magazine
Virginia RailRallus limicola
- ORDER: Gruiformes
- FAMILY: Rallidae
A secretive bird of freshwater marshes, the Virginia Rail often remains hidden in dense vegetation, but its loud grunting may give away its presence. As it slowly pokes its way through the marsh, you might get a glimpse of its reddish bill, black-and-white barred sides, and its twitching tail, showing off white tail feathers beneath. It possesses many adaptations for moving through its nearly impenetrable habitat, including a laterally compressed body, long toes, and flexible vertebrae.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Rails are famously secretive, but they are not impossible to see. These 4 tips might help you spot one. First, timing: rails are most active at dawn and dusk and are most vocal in the spring, so that's when to look for them. Second, focus on areas with good sight lines, such as places where a creek channel creates an opening or where there is a break in the vegetation. Alternatively look for open mudflats next to dense patches of cattails or bulrushes. They will forage in the open, but tend do so in areas with cover nearby. Third, move like a rail. Their furtiveness means that you too need to move around gently while intently looking for moving vegetation or ripples. Finally, if the marsh is coastal, check the tides. High tides might push rails out to the edge of the marsh, while low tides might encourage them to forage on newly exposed mudflats.
- Rascón de Virginia (Spanish)
- Râle de Virginie (French)
- Cool Facts
- The forehead feathers of Virginia Rails are adapted to withstand wear and tear that results from pushing through dense and often sharp marsh vegetation.
- The Virginia Rail is more adept at walking on soft mud than swimming, but it occasionally swims across wetlands and even dives underwater, propelling itself with its wings.
- As a group, rails have the highest ratio of leg muscles to flight muscles of any bird, which may explain their propensity to walk rather than fly.
- The Virginia Rail builds numerous "dummy nests" in addition to the one where eggs are actually laid.