South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Virginia Rail

Rallus limicola

Length: 9 to 10 inches Wingspan: 14 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Long bill, rich cinnamon below, gray cheeks, crisp black and white barring on flanks

Virginia Rail - Rallus limicolaUnlike other similar Rails, the Virginia Rail is a rather common breeding bird in South Dakota.  Like other Rails, however, they are more often heard than seen as they prefer thick marsh vegetation.  They are often found in conjunction with Sora.

Habitat: Uses a variety of shallow fresh- and brackish-water habitats, provided dense cover is available.  They will also use saltwater marshes during the winter.  During migration, they have the odd tendency to occasionally show up in almost any habitat.

Diet: Eats a great many aquatic insects and insect larvae.  Also eats mollusks and crustaceans, earthworms, small fish, and seeds of aquatic plants.

Behavior: Typically forages by moving through wetland vegetation, plucking insects and other food items from the ground or foliage.  They will also often probe in mud or shallow water for food.

Nesting: June through early August

Breeding Map: Breeding Bird Survey map

Song: Metallic tdik-tdik-tdik-tdik.  Click here to listen to the Virginia Rail's song.

Migration: Summers throughout most of the western U.S., the northern half of the eastern U.S., and southern Canada.  Winters along the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf Coasts, as wells as locally in the southwestern U.S., Mexico, and Central America. 

Migration - Special Note: Birders in the Black Hills area have recently made a very interesting discovery.  They have found Virginia Rails in at least 3 different locations north of the Black Hills in the winter of 2003/2004, and now in  subsequent winters as well.  Note that most of the literature shows them wintering near the U.S. coasts, or in the extreme SW or SE part of the U.S., but nowhere near South Dakota.  It's a potentially important finding, and certainly an interesting one. 

Similar Species: King Rail, Clapper Rail

Conservation Status: While still common in many areas, numbers have declined as habitat has been destroyed. 

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Virginia Rail

2) Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Virginia Rail

3) eNature.com: Virginia Rail

Photo Information: July 4th, 2006 -- Near Tea in Lincoln County -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Virginia Rail photos.

 

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - Virginia Rail
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident and migrant.  Accidental in winter (see migration notes in text above).