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Virginia Rail
Rallus limicola

Gruiforme Order – Rallidae Family

Length : 20-27 cm
Wingspan : 32-38 cm
Weight : F : 75 g - M : 90 g

Virginia Rail is a reddish bird. Wings are rich chestnut. This bird has short and upturned tail. Flanks are streaked black and white. On the head, we can see grey cheeks and dark crown. Throat and breast are rufous. Belly is slightly paler than breast. Upperparts are reddish brown streaked black.
Virginia Rail has long and curved bill. Eyes are red. Legs and long feet are orange brown.
Both sexes are similar, with male slightly larger than female.

Virginia Rail feeds mostly on small aquatic invertebrates, such as beetles, spiders, snails, earthworms, fish and bugs. In winter, it may consume aquatic plants and seeds.
Young birds are fed mostly by insects.

Virginia Rail is a game species in most of United States and Canada, but it is not heavily hunted. Populations decrease mainly by habitat loss, with degradations of wetland habitat.
Virginia Rail has a large number of predators, such as snakes, rodents, crows, raptors, predatory fish, coyotes and cats.   

Fr: Râle de Virginie
All : Virginiaralle
Esp : Rascón de Virginia
Ital : Porciglione della Virginia
Nd : Virginiaral
Sd : Virginiarall     

Photographs by René Lortie
His website : http://rlortie.ca/

Photograph by Tom Grey
His website : Tom Grey's Bird Pictures

Text by Nicole Bouglouan


HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD Volume 3 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliott-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN : 8487334202

FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA by National Geographic Society - National Geographic Society - ISBN: 0792274512

A GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF MEXICO AND NORTHERN CENTRAL AMERICA by  Steve N. G. Howell, Sophie Webb - Oxford University Press - ISBN: 0198540124

BIRDS OF THE GREAT BASIN – by Fred A. Ryser - Univ of Nevada Pr -ISBN: 0874170796

Avibase (Lepage Denis)

All About Birds (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Animal Diversity Web (University of Michigan Museum of Zoology)

Bird Web (Seattle Audubon Society)

What Bird-The ultimate Bird Guide (Mitchell Waite)


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Juvenile is blackish-brown above, and underparts are mottled black or grey. Face is greyish brown. Chin and throat are whitish. We can see paler feather edges on upperparts, and chestnut on wings.
Chicks are covered with black down.

Virginia Rail’s call is a series of “oink” descending notes. Song is another series of “kid-kid-kidick” chiefly uttered in breeding season.  We can also hear “cut-cut-cut-ah” often repeated many times. Grunting calls have threat function.   

Virginia rail is relatively common. It is found in freshwater, brackish marshes and wetlands. We can also find it in coastal salt marshes. It needs dense emergent vegetation.

Virginia Rail breeds throughout northern and western United States, south west Ontario, southern British Columbia and southern Quebec.
It winters in Mexico, Florida and Gulf Coast of United States.

Virginia Rail is a secretive bird, active by day. Its strong legs allow it to walk and run on the floating vegetation. Its slim body helps it to move into dense vegetation. It may run with speed and agility among thick vegetation, or over mud, and if it is necessary, it may swim.
It often remains hidden in vegetation, moving through dense wetlands habitat, by compressing laterally its body, helped by its flexible vertebrae and long toes. It is able to swim under water, propelled by its wings. It uses this function probably to flee potential predators.

Virginia Rail uses its long bill to probe into the mud, searching for food.
It defends its territory by some displays, such as threatening bill thrusts, by chasing, or by bill dipping, dropping its bill into the water at territorial boundaries. It may threaten with its grunting call.
Mates exchange softer calls. Male raises its wings and runs in front of female, while it twitches its tail.  Passing directly near to female, it stands up tall and bows. If female accepts, she bows back. Courtship displays also include feeding and mutual preening. Virginia Rail is probably monogamous.

Virginia Rail rarely flies, only for migration. It has weak short wings and its flight is not graceful. It has to drop to the ground after short flights. However, Virginia Rail can migrate immense distances.

Virginia Rail’s nest is built in May by both male and female. Nest is located in marshes, over water or on a clump of vegetation. It is a flat platform of reeds and grasses. According to the nest site, a canopy is built above the nest, with rushes and sedges, arched and woven to form this canopy. It conceals the nest, but also it is the first thing seen in the site.
To avoid nest loss by flooding, Virginia Rail adds materials to the nest by pulling in dead vegetation, and working it under the eggs. It prefers to nest in fresh water, with abundant cattail and dense vegetation.

Female lays 8 to 9 white, brown or grey spotted eggs. Incubation lasts about 18 to 20 days, shared by both adults. Chicks hatch precocial. Young grow up rapidly and begin to run out of the nest to the water to drink and swim, only about 10 to 11 hours after hatching. They are fed by both parents. They fledge at about 25 days after hatching. Parents may perform distraction display to defend dependent young.
This species produces two broods per year.