My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

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.

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola


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.

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola

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.

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola


Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola


Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola


Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola


This is number 207 in my photo life list, only 143 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!



17 responses

  1. Lovely photos of a striking bird with that long, colourful, curving beak and button eye. Pleased to read that they are ‘rarely hunted’ these days.

    March 14, 2018 at 9:58 am

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I don’t know in what parts of the world they are hunted, even if rarely, as they are protected here in the US and most other countries.

      March 14, 2018 at 1:33 pm

  2. honestly I am a bit against hunting. but your photos of birds are awesome, I like all of them.

    March 14, 2018 at 11:28 am

    • Thank you very much! I’m not opposed to hunting, I used to hunt in the past, but these days, I prefer to hunt with a camera instead of a gun.

      March 14, 2018 at 1:34 pm

  3. Interesting information, wonderful pictures.

    March 14, 2018 at 4:37 pm

  4. Your list is so much better illustrated now that you must feel like going back and redoing some of the early posts.

    March 14, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! The beauty of doing this on the web is that I can go back and replace earlier photos with better ones, which I have been doing to the older posts that I’ve completed.

      March 15, 2018 at 5:44 am

      • Your standards, which were never low, have gone up immensely. It might be harder to re-find some of the birds from the early posts though.

        March 15, 2018 at 9:22 am

      • True, but most of the ones that I’ve done aren’t that rare.

        March 15, 2018 at 2:35 pm

  5. Excellent shots!

    March 14, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen!

      March 15, 2018 at 5:43 am

  6. Beautiful shots, Jerry!

    March 15, 2018 at 6:04 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare!

      March 16, 2018 at 12:52 am

  7. You’ve caught some lovely photos of this interesting bird, Jerry! Congrats.

    March 20, 2018 at 11:12 am

    • Thank you very much Cynthia!

      March 20, 2018 at 7:53 pm

  8. Superb shots of the Virginia Rail, and with a 2X entender! Wow!

    March 25, 2018 at 7:32 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! The 2 X extender behind the Canon 300 mm f/4 lens is super as long as the subject is less than 20 feet from me, hardly any loss of image quality to speak of.

      March 25, 2018 at 8:12 am

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