The Sora is a Rail
The Sora is a member of the Rail family, Rallidae. This family includes rails, gallinules and coots. We have two rails commonly found in New Brunswick, the Sora and the Virginia Rail. Occasionally a rare rail is found here. For example, there was a King Rail in Fundy National Park earlier this spring.
The Sora is a compact chicken-shaped bird about 19-25 cm long (7.6 to 10 inches), about quail size. It is commonly found in marshes and pond edges in summer. Its presence is usually discovered by the frequent loud descending whinnying sound it makes. That sound has become synonymous with a fresh water marsh. As seen in the photo above, the Sora is brown and gray in colour with bright yellow bill and legs. There is white barring on its back and sides. The black on the face and throat set the bright yellow bill off well. The female is similar to the male but slightly muted on the face and bill.
The Sora is a secretive bird (except for its loud voice). It skulks through the vegetation and prefers to be heard and not seen. Note above how well it is camouflaged by the cattails. Its large feet facilitate its slow walk through the marsh vegetation. It also swims readily. When walking it bobs its head and cocks its tail high.
The range of the Sora is widespread. It summers in all of southern Canada southward to most of the northern US. It winters in the very southern US, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands. It builds its nest among the cattails suspending it above water. The nest is made out of dry leaves, grass and reeds and contains 10-12 buff eggs with gray or brown spots. Both parents incubate the eggs.
The Sora feeds on aquatic insects, snails, seeds, invertebrates and wetland plants. It uses its large feet to rake the aquatic vegetation in search of food, like the way a chicken feeds.
The Sora is the most common rail in North America. Large numbers are shot by hunters each year in the US but their population is stable probably because of their large hatch size. The greatest threat to this interesting species is the destruction of fresh water marshes. We are thankful for the help Ducks Unlimited is doing to reverse this trend. Marshes are a healthy part of our environment and should be maintained and kept pure.