Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola
Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.
Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola
The Virginia rail (Rallus limicola) is a small water bird, of the family Rallidae. These birds remain fairly common despite continuing loss of habitat, but are secretive by nature and more often heard than seen. They are also considered a game species in some provinces and states, though rarely hunted.
Adults are mainly brown, darker on the back and crown, with orange-brown legs. To walk through dense vegetation, they have evolved a laterally compressed body and strong forehead feathers adapted to withstand wear from pushing through vegetation. Virginia rails have the highest ratio of leg-muscle to flight-muscle of all birds (25% – 15% of body weight respectively). They have long toes used to walk on floating vegetation. Their tail is short and they have a long slim reddish bill. Their cheeks are grey, with a light stripe over the eye and a whitish throat. Chicks are black. Juveniles are blackish brown on upper parts with rufous on the edge of feathers and brownish bill and legs. Their underparts are dark brown to black, while the face is grayish brown. Both sexes are very similar, with females being slightly smaller. Adults measure 20–27 cm, with a wingspan of 32–38 cm, and usually weigh 65-95 g.
The Virginia rail lives in freshwater and brackish marshes, sometimes salt marshes in winter. Northern populations migrate to the southern United States and Central America. On the Pacific coast, some are permanent residents. Its breeding habitat is marshes from Nova Scotia to Southern British Columbia, California and North Carolina, and in Central America. It often coexists with Soras.
The Virginia rail often runs to escape predators, instead of flying. When it does fly, it is usually short distances or for migration. It can also swim and dive using its wings to propel itself.
This bird has a number of calls, including a harsh kuk kuk kuk, usually heard at night. It also makes grunting noises. In spring, it will make tick-it or kid-ick calls.
The Virginia rail probe with its bill in mud or shallow water, also picking up food by sight. It mainly eat insects and other aquatic invertebrates, like beetles, flies, dragonflies, crayfish, snails and earthworms. It can also eat aquatic animals like frogs, fish and some small snakes, as well as seeds. Animal preys constitute the biggest part of this bird’s diet, but vegetation contributes to its diet in the fall and winter.
Courtship starts around May. The male will raise his wings and run back and forth next to the female. Both sexes bow, and the male feeds the female. Before copulation, the male approaches the female while grunting. Virginia rails are monogamous. Both parents build the nest and care for the young, whereas only the male defend the territory. The nest is built as the first egg is laid and consists of a basket of woven vegetation. The nest is made using plants like cattails, reeds and grasses. They also build dummy nests around the marsh. They nest near the base of emergent vegetation in areas with vegetation creating a canopy above the nest.
This birds lays a clutch of 4 to 13 white or buff eggs with sparse gray or brown spotting. The eggs generally measure 32 by 24 millimetres (1.26 by 0.94 in). They are incubated by both parents for a period of 20 to 22 days, in which the parents continue to add nesting material to conceal the nest. When the eggs hatch, the parents feed the young for two to three weeks, when the chicks become independent. The young can fly in less than a month. The pair bond between the parents breaks after the young become independent.
On to my photos:
These images were shot during the summer of 2016 during the course of several visits to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve and over the course of several weeks. What is also notable about these images is that they were all shot with my Canon 7D Mk II, 300 mm L series lens, and with the 2 X tele-converter behind the lens.
These birds are very secretive and difficult to see as they never venture out into the open, this is a more typical view of one.
But, through perseverance and awaiting for the birds to step into more open areas, I was able to shoot a few good images of them.
This is number 207 in my photo life list, only 143 to go!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!