A small (9 inches) rail, the Virginia Rail is most easily identified by its mottled brown back, rusty neck, streaked flanks, and dark gray face patch near the eye. This species may be separated from the similarly-colored King Rail (Rallus elegans) by that species’ much larger size and browner face. Male and female Virginia Rails are similar to one another in all seasons. The Virginia Rail breeds across southern Canada and in northern and western portions of the United States. Northerly-breeding populations migrate south to the coastal southeast and Mexico in winter, whereas populations breeding in the Mid-Atlantic region, on the Pacific coast, and in the interior southwest are non-migratory. Other non-migratory populations exist in central Mexico and Guatemala. Virginia Rails breed in a variety of marshland habitats in areas of fresh or brackish water. This species utilizes similar habitat types in winter as in summer. Virginia Rails primarily eat small invertebrates, such as insects and crustaceans, but may also eat seeds and aquatic plant material during the winter. In appropriate habitat, Virginia Rails may be seen wading in shallow water while foraging for food on the shore or on the mud of the submerged bank. If these birds are more hidden, perhaps beneath tall marsh grasses, it may still be possible to hear their call, a grating “wak-wak-wak” repeated many times in succession. Virginia Rails are primarily active during the day, although they may be heard calling at night.
A common breeder and migrant found mostly in brackish tidal marshes. Arrives March through May, nests from late April to late August, leaves August through October. Sexes are similar.
This specimen information applies to the bird on the left.
Date: Sept 1863
Collected By: R Ridgway/E Coues
Locality: District of Columbia
Catalog ID: 84676
This record corresponds to the bird in the center.
Collected By: FE Wheeler
Locality: Benning Marsh, DC
Catalog ID: 236635
This record likely represents the bird on the right.
Collected By: Edward J Brown/W Norman
Locality: Washington, DC
Catalog ID: 220409