|Conservation status||Has declined in many areas with loss of marsh habitat; still widespread and fairly common.|
|Family||Rails, Gallinules, Coots|
|Habitat||Fresh and brackish marshes; in winter, also salt marshes. Nests in a variety of marshy situations, mostly fresh, but also brackish marsh near coast. Where this species and Sora breed in same marshes, Virginia Rail typically places its nest in drier spots. Often moves into salt marshes in winter. During migration, sometimes found in odd spots, even city streets.|
Forages by probing in mud or shallow water, picking items from ground or from plants, or stalking small creatures and capturing them with a swift thrust of the bill.
5-13. Pale buff, lightly spotted with brown and gray. Incubation is by both parents, about 18-20 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents feed young and brood them while they are small. Family remains on breeding territory until chicks are full-grown, then adults may depart, while young remain. Chicks are fed by parents until they are 2-3 weeks old, then become independent; are able to fly at about 25 days.
Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents feed young and brood them while they are small. Family remains on breeding territory until chicks are full-grown, then adults may depart, while young remain. Chicks are fed by parents until they are 2-3 weeks old, then become independent; are able to fly at about 25 days.
Mostly insects, crayfish, snails; some seeds. Feeds on a wide variety of aquatic insects and their larvae, especially beetles, flies, dragonflies, many others. Also eats crayfish, earthworms, snails, slugs, a few small fish. Seeds may be important in diet at times.
In courtship, male runs back and forth near female with wings raised; male and female both make bowing motions; male feeds female. Nest site is in marsh, in dry area or over very shallow water, placed a few inches up in dense clump of vegetation. Nest (built by both sexes) is platform of cattails, reeds, grasses, usually with living plants forming a canopy over it.
Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
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Some in west may be permanent residents. Most migrate as far as southern United States, northern Mexico; some as far as Guatemala. Another race is resident in South America.
- All Seasons - Common
- All Seasons - Uncommon
- Breeding - Common
- Breeding - Uncommon
- Winter - Common
- Winter - Uncommon
- Migration - Common
- Migration - Uncommon
See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsA far-carrying ticket, ticket, ticket, ticket; various grunting notes.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Virginia Rail
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.
Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.
Climate threats facing the Virginia Rail
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.