VIRGINIA RAIL – (Rallus limicola)
The Virginia Rail is a small water bird part of a family that includes coots and gallinules. It measures around 25 cm (10 in.) long, and has a plump body, which is mostly brown with dark streaks on the back. The cheeks are grey, the eyes and the bill are reddish-brown, and the legs are dark orange. The bill is long and thin, and slighly curved downward, thus helping in picking insects and crustaceans in the water and the mud. They also have long toes, which help them walk on floating vegetation. The sides and breast are rufous. The tail is very short. The rump is black with fine white bars. Both sexes are similar, but the chicks are black.
The bird’s English name ‘Rail’, and ‘Rallus’ in Latin, derives from old French and means ‘to make a scraping noise’, in reference to its calls. The name ‘Virginia’ would relate to the location where the first individual was identified. And the Latin part ‘limicola’ refers to ‘mud’, the environment where this bird is found.
The habitat of the Virginia rail includes mostly bodies of freshwater such as marshes, where it digs into the water or mud with its specialized bill for aquatic insects or crustaceans. It will also eat small fish or amphibians. This bird can also swim and dive, but will run away rather than fly in case of danger. Virginia rails build their nests in emergent vegetation in a marsh, and will hide it with a canopy of vegetation. They will also add dummy nests around the marsh. Those rails often cohabit with the Sora, but they have different diets, the sora eating more seeds than the Virginia rail.
The Virginia rail breeds on PEI, but its occurrence on the island has been recorded as rare to uncommon for spring and summer, and uncommon in the fall. Its overall breeding range covers the southern part of Canada and the northern part of the USA. It will migrate to the southern USA and Central America for the winter.
Conservation: this bird, like other water birds, is difficult to observe in its habitat, which makes it difficult to accurately evaluate its population. Thought to be widespread and common, it is however vulnerable to loss of habitat due to wetland drainage for agriculture and urban development.