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Bird Gallery

Black Rail

Black Rail
Black Rail

© Greg Lavaty

Laterallus jamaicensis

Family: (Rallidae) Rails, Gallinules and Coots

Preferred Habitat: Shallow salt and freshwater marshes

Seasonal Occurrence: October through April.

Notes: If you are so lucky as to get a glimpse of a Black Rail, you can expect a mostly dark rail with a chestnut nape, white spots on the back, and bright red eyes. It's extremely secretive nature is helped by its size, it is the smallest rail in North America, just 4-6 inches long. Be cautious relying simply on size and dark coloring in your ID, all young rails are black and are similar in size to an adult Black Rail. An easier way to identify them is by their call, given late at night, a piping "ki-ki-doo", with the last note lower in pitch.

This rail lives along the coast in tidal marshes with dense grass and shallow water, and grassy marshes inland. While there is some variation, many guides agree that they winter on the upper half of the Texas coast with a significant portion where they are residents. Other resident populations are found in California and the southeast US. According to sightings on eBird, they may be found at Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, the area between High Island and Rollover Pass, and the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

This bird is difficult to flush and is not often seen in flight. It instead scurries through the marsh as it feeds on insects, snails and seeds. Their secretive nature makes them a difficult study. While populations are hard to estimate, they are believed to be declining in some areas due to habitat loss, causing them to be listed as Near Threatened. They nest in high parts of the marsh in a woven cup of plant material, often with a dome on top. Many details of nesting behavior and chick development are not well known. The Black Rail is an exciting example of all that is still yet undiscovered in our study of birds.
- Meghan Anne