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Virginia Rail

Silhouette RailsRails
Virginia RailRallus limicola
  • ORDER: Gruiformes
  • FAMILY: Rallidae

Basic Description

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
image of range map for Virginia Rail
Range map provided by Birds of the World
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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.

Other Names

  • Rascón de Virginia (Spanish)
  • Râle de Virginie (French)
  • Cool Facts