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Rails: unusual birds
Photos & Text by R. Munguia

The Rallidae family includes a series of marsh and wetland birds highly adapted to moving through floating vegetation and grasses found on these ecosystems. The family includes rails as well as gallinules and coots. While all of them can swim and even dive, the coots are the most adapted to water. Their lobed feet allow them to dive pretty good. In contrast, the purple gallinule has long toes that allow them to distribute their weight over floating vegetation such as lily pads.

The birds known as rails are very special indeed, and seldom seen due to their secretive nature. Their narrow bodies, flexible wings and strong feet are adaptations to their life among weeds and grasses of fresh or brackish waters. Five species of rails are found in Florida, the Yellow, Black, Clapper, Virginia and King Rail. Then you have the Sora, another member of the rail family with similar behavior and characteristics. Their plumage is colored with browns, grays and reddish tones that blend them against the marsh background.

Although relatively weak at flying, some species endure long migrations over water and land. Females may lay from 6-15 eggs, perhaps to offset a high mortality rate due to predation.

If you’re interested in finding some of these rails, you want to look carefully at the water edge of emergent vegetation. The Clapper and Black rails are often found on salt-marshes, the latter is the smallest of all rails in North America. The Virginia, King Rail and the Soras can be seen in Circle B Bar. They require a lot of patience and keen eyes to spot their movement through the vegetation.

Other Rallidae Members

Purple Gallinule
American Coot
Wood Rail - Costa Rica
Rallidae Facts
  • There are 141 species in this family organized in 33 genera.

  • Most of them are omnivores, except the coots and the moorhen which are hervibores.

  • A group of really vocal species that inhabit wetlands including fresh, brackish, salt marshes and mangrove swamps, bogs and wet meadows.

  • Generally covered with a cryptic plumage. Most of them have a slender body to move through vegetation and long bills to capture invertebrates and small vertebrates.

Some of Florida Rails

King Rail
Virginia Rail
Clapper Rail

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