Yellow Rail

Coturnicops noveboracensis
A Yellow Rail specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A small (7 inches) chicken-like bird, the Yellow Rail is most easily identified by its small size, mottled-brown body, and short tail. Other field marks include a thin bill, yellow legs, and brown eyes. Male and female Yellow Rails are similar to one another in all seasons. The Yellow Rail breeds extremely locally over a wide area of south-central Canada and the northern United States. These birds migrate south for the winter, when they may be found along the coast of the southeastern United States from North Carolina to Texas. An isolated population may exist in central Mexico, but has not been sighted there since 1964. Yellow Rails breed in shallow freshwater marshes, particularly those where sedges are common. In winter, this species is found in coastal freshwater and saltwater marshes where Spartina marsh grasses grow. Yellow Rails mainly eat aquatic snails and insects, and may also take seeds when available. Like most rails, the Yellow Rail is extremely secretive and difficult to observe. This species tends to hide in clumps of tall marsh grasses when startled, more rarely flying short distances close to the top of the vegetation. This species is active both during the day and at night.

DC Information

A rare migrant in tidewater areas. March to May and October through November. Occurs in salt and freshwater marshes. Sexes are similar.

Specimen Information

Date:  3/29/1884
Collected By:  Alex Skinner
Locality:  Washington, DC
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  96617

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC10348 Coturnicops noveboracensis (Yellow Rail)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC10349 Coturnicops noveboracensis (Yellow Rail)