Thursday, June 11, 2015


More Often Heard Than Seen

Virginia Rail
Rails are secretive birds of marshes.  The are chicken-like with short, rounded wings and long legs and toes.  They hide in the vegetation by running through the cattails or swimming rather than flying. They give away their presence often by vocalizing.  

I visited a local marsh recently with friends and we heard the "kid-dik kid-dik" of a Virginia Rail.  Soon others were answering.  It is frustrating that you know that interesting bird is in the reeds but you cannot see it.  Fortunately it showed itself for a short time, enough for me to get a picture.  

The Virginia stands about 23 cm (9 in) high and has a rusty breast, barred black-and-white flanks, a streaked back, white undertail coverts, reddish legs and a gray face.  Its beak is long and reddish.  It is one of our most common rails.

The Sora is also a common rail.  It is smaller than the Virginia Rail, about 19-25 cm (7-10 in) high.  It is found in our marshes and makes one of our most common bird calls around the marsh, a loud descending whinny-like sound.  

The Sora is easy to identify because of its short yellow beak.  It has a plump body mostly brown on the upper parts and wings with heavily barred flanks.  The sides of the head and neck are gray and the face is black.  

Clapper Rail
The Clapper Rail, although listed as 'casual' in our "Birds of New Brunswick: An annotated List", would be considered rare here.  Its preferred habitat is coastal salt marshes.  It is a bigger rail than the Virginia, standing about 35-40 cm tall (14-16 in).  Its loud, harsh chattering voice gives its presence away but it is very secretive and hard to see.  Its voice sounds like someone clapping, hence its name.  It can be distinguished from the Virginia Rail by its larger size, its voice and its cheeks are brownish gray and its beak is a little less red.   Location helps in identification, the Virginia preferring inland marshes and the Clapper, coastal marshes.  

The next time you take a walk near a marsh or paddle your kayak through one, take note of the sounds.  Perhaps you can identify a New Brunswick rail.

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