Species Profile: Virginia Rail

Photo credit: Greg Schneider (www.gschneiderphoto.com)

The Virginia Rail: a small, secretive bird of North American wetlands that inhabits southern British Columbia during the summer breeding months. Despite its rather compact body, the Virginia Rail (and other Rail species) have the highest ratio of leg muscles to flight muscles of any bird. Perhaps more fascinating is its creation of “dummy nests”, constructed in effort to protect the nest that possesses the eggs from various predators and scavengers. While sightings of Virginia Rails may not be too common, that is not due to the amount of them in existence; in fact, despite lacking any protection or special designation, the Virginia Rail is listed by the IUCN as a species of ‘Least Concern’. Instead, the apparent lack of the bird in certain areas is attributed to the inherent nature of the species: Virginia Rails have a preference for dense, concealing vegetation and brush. Interestingly, their forehead feathers are adapted to withstand wear from pushing through dense vegetation. 

While many bird-watchers may wish to spot Virginia Rails at their local British Columbian wetlands, summer months provide a short window of opportunity. Their year-round habitat is typically constrained to California and south, where warmer temperatures provide suitable habitats. 

In contrast to adults – whom have a reddish body with gray cheeks – juveniles are blackish-brown on top with dark gray spotted underparts. The long, decurved bill of Virginia Rails coupled with a short, upturned tail, are the most apparent identification characteristics. 

As the purpose of this post is to not only provide you with interesting facts about Virginia Rails but to also provide you with something useful to take away, an archive of Virginia Rail sounds can be found here. Anyone wishing to venture out to their local wetland and try to spot the bird should refer to the sound archive prior; as Virginia Rails are more likely to be heard than seen, some background research into their calls should be conducted!

With that said, get out there and enjoy the new year at your local wetlands! Is anyone planning to go bird-watching soon?

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