Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola)

Virginia Rail

[order] GRUIFORMES | [family] Rallidae | [latin] Rallus limicola | [UK] Virginia Rail | [FR] Rale de Virginie | [DE] Virginiaralle | [ES] Rascon de Virginia | [NL] Virginia-ral


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Rallus limicola NA widespread Mexico
Rallus limicola friedmanni sc and se Mexico
Rallus limicola limicola s Canada, USA to Guatemala

Physical charateristics

A small rusty rail with gray cheeks, black bars on the flanks, and a long, slightly decurved, reddish bill. Near the size of a meadowlark; the only small rail with a long,slender
bill. Grown young in late summer show much black.

Listen to the sound of Virginia Rail

[audio: Rail.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 33 cm wingspan max.: 37 cm
size min.: 20 cm size max.: 26 cm
incubation min.: 18 days incubation max.: 20 days
fledging min.: 23 days fledging max.: 27 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 6  
      eggs max.: 13  


North America : widespread


Fresh and brackish marshes; in winter, also salt marshes. Nests in a variety of marshy situations, mostly fresh, but also brackish marsh near coast. Where th
is species and Sora breed in the same marshes, Virginia Rail typically places its nest in drier spots. Often moves into salt marshes in winter. During migration, sometimes found in odd spots, even city streets.


In courtship, male runs back and forth near female with wings raised; male and female both make bowing motions; male feeds female.
Nest: Site is in marsh, in dry area or over very shallow water, placed a few inches up in dense clump of vegetation. Nest (built by both sexes) is platform of cattails, reeds, grasses, usually with living plants forming a canopy over it.

Eggs: 5-13. Pale buff, lightly spotted with brown and gray. Incubation is by both parents, about 18-20 days.
Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents feed young and brood them while they are small. Family remains on breeding territory until chicks are full-grown, then adults may depart, while young remain. Chicks are fed by parents until they ar
e 2-3 weeks old, then become independent; are able to fly at about 25 days.

Feeding habits

Mostly insects, crayfish, snails; some seeds.
Feeds on a wide variety of aquatic insects and their larvae, especially beetles, flies, dragonflies, many others. Also eats crayfish, earthworms, snails, slugs, a few small fish. Seeds may be important in diet at times.
Behavior: Forages by probing in mud or shallow water, picking items from ground or from plants, or stalking small creatures and capturing them with a swift thrust of the bill.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Virginia Rail status Least Concern


Southern Canada to southern South America.
Migration: Some in west may be permanent residents. Most migrate as far as southern United States, northern Mexico; some as far as Guatemala. Another race is resident in South America.

Distribution map

Virginia Rail distribution range map

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