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Black Rail Laterallus jamaicensis


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Black Rail
credit: Louis Agassiz Fuertes

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Rallidae, Rails, Gallinules, Coots view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE Can appear all dark, but in good light note the dark rich-brown crown, nape, and back. Underparts are dark blue-gray with black and whitish barring on flanks, belly, and undertail coverts. Has dark bill and beady red eye. ADULT FEMALE Similar, but has less well-marked upperparts and is marginally paler on underparts. JUVENILE Recalls adult female but is browner overall.

Dimensions Length: 5-6" (13-15 cm)

Habitat Local and easily overlooked. Threatened by habitat loss. Breeds on inland freshwater marshes and coastal salt marshes; birds migrate to coastal habitats for winter.

Observation Tips One of the hardest North American species to observe. Very occasionally seen dashing from one area of flooded dense vegetation to anotherómostly in the winter, when high tides force birds to flee cover as it becomes inundated by rising water levels. If flushed by an observer from wetland vegetation quickly drops back into cover and is seldom seen again. Count yourself extremely lucky if you see one!

Range Plains, Southeast, Southwest, Mid-Atlantic, Texas, California, Great Lakes, Florida

Voice Territorial male utters a sharp, repeated ki'ki durr, ki'ki durrÖ, mainly after dark.

Discussion Diminutive rail and the smallest of its kind in Eastern North America. Has a dumpy, short-tailed appearance, recalling perhaps a small chick of a larger species. Behavior is positively furtive and consequently Black Rails are far easier to hear than to see. Sexes are very subtly dissimilar.