Common Name

Scientific Name

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Photo by Nicky Davis
Photo Copyright Nicky Davis

The Virginia rail, Rallus limicola, breeds in southern Canada and the northern and western United States, as well as in the highlands of Mexico and Guatemala, and southward to southern South America. Many northern populations are migratory, wintering mostly in the southern United States and Mexico; those in Central America and South America are nonmigratory. This species is common, though secretive and seldom seen, in marshlands at lower elevations in Utah during the summer and is uncommon in the state during other seasons. Its breeding habitat is mainly freshwater wetlands, and its wintering habitat includes both freshwater and saltwater marshes. It eats mainly small aquatic invertebrates, aquatic plants, and the seeds of emergent plants.

The nest is constructed low in emergent vegetation, usually over water less than a foot deep. Four to thirteen eggs are incubated by both parents for eighteen to twenty days. The chicks are precocial; they are able to walk almost immediately after hatching and able to swim within a few hours. They are fed by both parents at first, but they leave the nest within three to four days of hatching, and are able to feed on their own by the seventh day. The young become independent after about three to four weeks.


  • Conway, C. J. 1995. Virginia rail. Birds of North America 173: 1–19.

  • Peterson, R. T., and V. M. Peterson. 1990. A field guide to western birds, 3rd ed. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 432 pp.

  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.