Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis)

Black Rail

[order] GRUIFORMES | [family] Rallidae | [latin] Laterallus jamaicensis | [UK] Black Rail | [FR] Rale noir | [DE] Schieferralle | [ES] Burrito cuyano (Arg), Polluela Negruzca(Esp), Polluela Negra (Cr), Gallineta Negra (HN) | [NL] Zwarte Dwergral


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Laterallus jamaicensis NA, LA USA, Greater Antilles to w SA
Laterallus jamaicensis coturniculus wc California (USA) to Baja California (Mexico)
Laterallus jamaicensis jamaicensis e USA, e Central America
Laterallus jamaicensis murivagans w Peru
Laterallus jamaicensis salinasi c Chile, w Argentina

Physical charateristics

A tiny blackish rail with a small black bill; about the size of a bobtailed young sparrow. Nape deep chestnut. Very difficult to glimpse.

Listen to the sound of Black Rail

[audio: Rail.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 22 cm wingspan max.: 28 cm
size min.: 10 cm size max.: 15 cm
incubation min.: 27 days incubation max.: 30 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 0 days
broods: 2   eggs min.: 4  
      eggs max.: 12  


North America, Latin America : USA, Greater Antilles to West South America. Laterallus jamaicensis is widespread, but very local, in fresh and saline marshes, wet meadows and savanna in North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. The nominate race occurs on the east coast of USA, with sporadic records inland to Colorado and Minnesota (but no confirmed nesting since 1932). It is very local in north-east Mexico, Belize, Guatemala (only in 1903), Costa Rica, Panama (only in 1963), with an unconfirmed report from Honduras. It is locally rare in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but mainly a winter visitor on Jamaica and Cuba. It was probably extirpated as a breeder from Puerto Rico (to USA) by introduced mongooses, and is now extremely rare in winter. It is recorded as a non-breeder in the Virgin Islands (to USA). There is one recent record from north Brazil. The race coturniculus is very local in south-west USA, irregularly to north-west Mexico (one recent record). The race murivagans occurs at few coastal marshes in central Peru. The race salinasi is rare and local in south Peru to central Chile and adjacent parts of west-central Argentina.


Tidal marshes and salicornia on coast; grassy marshes inland.
Favors very shallow water or damp soil with scattered puddles. In coastal marsh, upper limits of highest tides; inland, mostly wet meadows. Found in dense stands of spartina and other grasses, salicornia, rushes, sedges.


The breeding season begins as early as February with pair formation. Egg laying peaks around May, with a 17 to 20-day incubation period. Although rails are considered year around residents in the Sierra Nevada foothills, seasonal movements including juvenile dispersal and adult relocation to other wetland breeding sites occur each year sometime during the nonbreeding season between approximately August and February. Nest Site Selection Factors influencing nest site selection include size of wetland, cover density, wetland species composition, water levels, and food availability. Nests are concealed in dense vegetation and consist of a small, deep, loose cup of woven reeds or grasses and built at ground level or several inches above the ground. Reproduction Rails in California usually lay one single brood with an average clutch size of six eggs (range = 3 to 8). Both adults apparently incubate the eggs; however there is very limited data. No information is available on length of brooding period, timing of fledging, parental care, or reproductive success.

Feeding habits

Very little information available on foraging behavior, but the black rail is assumed to be an opportunistic daytime feeder. Black rails forage exclusively within the wetland habitat, presumably near substrate at edges of emergent vegetation. Diet consists of insects, small mollusks, amphipods and other invertebrates, and some seeds.


This poorly known species is believed to be declining at a moderately rapid rate and consequently it is classified as Near Threatened.
Continued massive degradation of wetlands habitats give cause for concern. In parts of its range it is threatened by pollution, drought, wildfires, groundwater removal, changing water levels, grazing and agricultural expansion
Black Rail status Near Threatened


Northeastern and central United States and central California south locally to West Indies, Chile. Migration: Eastern Black Rails are somewhat migratory, withdrawing from nor
thern areas in winter, but those in the West apparently are permanent residents.

Distribution map

Black Rail distribution range map

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