Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola is a tiny waterbird belonging to the Rallidae family. These birds remain rather numerous despite ongoing habitat degradation, but are naturally reclusive and are more frequently heard than seen. In several provinces and states, they are also considered a game species, though they are rarely hunted.
Quick Overview: Rallus Limicola – Virginia Rail
Body size: Around 9-10 in (23-25 cm) and a weight of 88 g (3.1 oz)
Main colors: Black, Brown, White, Gray, Red-Brown, Orange-brown
Range: Throughout the United States
Migratory Bird: Yes
Best time of the year to see in the U.S.: January, February, June, July, August, September
Conservation Status: Least Concern
Virginia Rail Description
Brown-and-black speckled upper parts, white throat, rust-brown breast, and barred black-and-white belly. The head is black with a gray face and white brows. Bill is long, reddish-brown in color, and curled downward. Orange-brown legs. The tail is short, black on top and white on the bottom.
These birds have a length of 9-10 in (23-25 cm) and a weight of 88 g (3.1 oz). Their wings could range from 13-14.5 in (33-37 cm).
During the breeding season, Virginia rails feed on beetles, snails, spiders, earthworms, and fly (Diptera) larvae. Summer diets are 85%-97% animal products. They graze in shallow water or mudflats, probing the waters with their bills. In deep water, they have been seen foraging on aquatic invertebrates like crayfish, as well as small vertebrates including frogs, tiny fish, and snakes (more than 20 cm).
Virginia rails have been seen from 0 to 2,370 meters (the upper limit in Peruvian mountains). Virginia rails breed in lowland freshwater marshes with a high concentration of emergent plants They prefer shallow to moderate depths (0-15 cm) and mudflats. They need shallow waters (20-40 cm) with plenty of fallen or floating material to move and graze on.
Virginia rails are crepuscular, feeding early and late. Inability to fly and strong leg muscles cause them to spend most of their time on the ground walking, hopping, or running. During migration, they fly, but not for long, and their landings are rough. These birds walk with their tails raised, fanning them. Their covert black and white feathers are exhibited in this way. They can swim and dive, but primarily to avoid predators.
Rallus Limicola Scientific Classification
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Subphylum: Chelicerata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Gruiformes
- Family: Rallidae
- Genus: Rallus
- Species: Rallus limicola
Best time of the year to see
The best time to see these birds in the United States is during the winter season (December to February) in the southern part and during the summer season (June – September) in the rest of the part.
Distribution of the Virginia Rail in the USA
Breeds from southern British Columbia to northern Newfoundland, southern Arizona, west-central Texas, Missouri, Ohio, and North Carolina as well as central Mexico and South America. Winters in southern British Columbia and northern Baja California as well as in the Gulf Coast and North Carolina.
The Virginia Rail can be found in the following states in the United States – Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.