Inspiration from Tabatha Olsen’s wonderful presentation last month & a rare opportunity to photograph these difficult birds, and you get the perfect storm for this month’s bird: Virginia Rail!
These small, hard to see birds can be found throughout certain times of the year all over 48 states across the lower 48 states and up as far as southern Canada in the summertime. They live in both freshwater & saltwater marshes, skulking around the reeds near the water’s edge. Where they breed, they weave the vegetation into a loose basket, and will even weave a canopy over the nest. They also build several dummy nests in addition to the real one. The female can lay a very large clutch of eggs, sometimes as many as 13! Young are covered in black down, and can fly within a month.
Here in Oklahoma, you can find them during migration & winter. I have heard them many more times than I have seen them, and they are even harder to photograph! Usually I hear grunts & squeaks calling from the reeds. If you are someplace where there are a lot of reeds near the water’s edge, look closely for a small, long-legged bird with a bright orange bill walking in & out of view! And keep an ear out for those strange rail noises. You’ll have the best luck at dawn and dusk, but I have occasionally gotten them in the afternoon as well. The drought this year has made it a bit tricky, but Hefner and Overholser usually have them each winter. (I shot this photo at Overholser last month.)
Due to their secretive nature, it’s hard to monitor the population of rails. However, Virginia Rails are considered to be of Least Concern and are thought to have a stable population. Threats to these birds, like many others, include the loss of their preferred wetland habitat. Hopefully at some point this winter you are able to find one of these awesome little rails!