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Yellow Rail Coturnicops noveboracensis


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Yellow Rail, adult on ground
credit: Dominic Sherony/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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

Description ADULT In breeding season has buff-yellow plumage overall, palest on throat, with darker feathering on crown, through eye, and on flanks; back feathers have dark centers. Back and flanks are spangled with fine white bars. Bill is yellow and legs are dull pinkish. Nonbreeding adult is similar, but with dull bill. JUVENILE Similar to adult, but head, neck, and breast are darker overall, but with more extensive white spangling.

Dimensions Length: 6-8" (15-20 cm)

Habitat Threatened and declining as a result of wetland habitat destruction. Endemic to North America and entire world population may number just a few tens of thousands of birds. In breeding season, favors freshwater marshes with abundant, emergent grasses and sedges. Winters on Gulf and south Atlantic coasts of U.S., favoring grassy wetlands and rice fields.

Observation Tips Tricky to observe, so consider yourself lucky if you succeed. Perhaps least difficult to see in winter in flooded agricultural fields.

Range Florida, Plains, Northwest, Southeast, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Western Canada, Texas, Eastern Canada

Voice Utters a rhythmic clicking tic-tic-tic-tic; imitate this by tapping two stones together.

Discussion Tiny wetland bird. Habits are so secretive, and favored habitat so impenetrable, that few people ever get a good look at this enigmatic species. Most satisfy themselves with hearing the call or catching a glimpse of a flushed bird in brief flight (note white secondaries and underwing coverts). Sexes are similar.