Coturnicops noveboracensis - (Gmelin, 1789)
Yellow Rail
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Coturnicops noveboracensis (Gmelin, 1789) (TSN 176259)
French Common Names: râle jaune
Spanish Common Names: Polluela Amarilla
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.100233
Element Code: ABNME01010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Birds - Other Birds
Image 7769

© Larry Master

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Aves Gruiformes Rallidae Coturnicops
Genus Size: B - Very small genus (2-5 species)
Check this box to expand all report sections:
Concept Reference
Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online:
Concept Reference Code: B98AOU01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Coturnicops noveboracensis
Taxonomic Comments: May constitute a superspecies with C. exquisitus (AOU 1998).
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 07Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 25Nov1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Widespread distribution centered in south-central and southeastern Canada; apparently rather rare in most areas, though this is partly because of difficulty in detection; known to be fairly common in some areas; evidently declining in some areas where habitat destruction is ongoing, but there are some significant areas of protected habitat.
Nation: United States
National Status: N3B,N4N (05Jan1997)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N4B (13Feb2012)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Alabama (S2N), Arkansas (SNA), California (S1S2), District of Columbia (SHN), Florida (SNA), Georgia (S3?), Illinois (SXB,S2N), Indiana (SNA), Iowa (SNA), Kansas (SNA), Kentucky (SNA), Louisiana (S3S4N), Massachusetts (S1N), Michigan (S1S2), Minnesota (S3B), Mississippi (S2N), Missouri (SU), Montana (S3B), Nebraska (SNRN), New Jersey (SNRN), New York (SNRN), North Carolina (S2N), North Dakota (S2), Ohio (SX), Oregon (S1B), South Dakota (SUB), Texas (S3N), Virginia (SNRN), Wisconsin (S1B)
Canada Alberta (SU), British Columbia (S2B), Manitoba (S3S4B), New Brunswick (S1?B), Northwest Territories (S2B), Nunavut (S3B), Ontario (S4B), Quebec (S2S3B), Saskatchewan (S3B,S2M)

Other Statuses

Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA) Schedule 1/Annexe 1 Status: SC (05Jun2003)
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC): Special Concern (27Nov2009)
Comments on COSEWIC: Relatively little is known about this small, secretive rail. It is primarily restricted to shallow, dense, grassy marshes and wet meadows. Most of its breeding range (about 90%) is in Canada. It is relatively uncommon in most areas; populations are most widespread and common in coastal areas of Hudson and James Bay in northern Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. It winters in shallow marshes that occur in a narrow band extending from Texas to the Carolinas. The species is close to meeting some criteria for Threatened status because of its relatively small population size, compressed wintering range, ongoing threats to breeding and wintering wetland habitats, and evidence for local declines in several parts of its breeding range.

Designated Special Concern in April 1999. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2001 and in November 2009.

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: BREEDING: locally from northwestern Alberta to central Saskatchewan, Manitoba, northern New York (Gibbs, pers. comm.), Maine, and New Brunswick, south to southern Alberta, northeastern Montana, North Dakota, Michigan, southern Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, southern Ontario, and New England; formerly south to southern Ohio and northern Illinois (Bookhout 1995). Nested formerly in eastern California, where current nesting is a possibility. Recently rediscovered nesting in southern Oregon (Stern et al. 1993). Formerly occurred in State of Mexico, Rio Lerma Valley (subspecies GOLDMANI) where last reported in 1964 (Bookhout 1995). NON-BREEDING: mostly on Coastal Plain in southeastern U.S. from Texas to North Carolina; scattered records in California from Humboldt to Riverside Counties (Bookhout 1995).

Area of Occupancy: 501-12,500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments: This is purely a conjecture based on up to 10 hectares per breeding male (Bookhout, 1995). Assuming a population of 20,000 Yellow Rails of which half are males, this would equate to 1000 square kilometers of occupancy during the breeding season. This assumes no clumping of breeding territories obviously.

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Difficult to estimate due to rail's secretive nature, but a total of more than 150 EOs were reported from the five states and provinces that provided this information in a 1993 survey. It is likely that there are many more EOs in territories that did not respond (e.g., Manitoba and Saskatchewan). Species is likely highly under-detected. Many new records in Minnesota as a result of intensive county inventories suggest that the scant records prior to these inventories were due to lack of detection.

Population Size: 2500 - 100,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Probably more abundant than present records indicate. Birdlife International estimates 10,000 to 25,000 individuals (Birdlife International, 2014).

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Some to many (13-125)
Viability/Integrity Comments: difficult to estimate. Based on the information number of known EOs and the fact that there likely many more EOs in other provinces, an estimate of at least 13 good EOs is probably not an overestimate.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: The major threats are nesting habitat destruction due to coastal development, natural succession, and wetland destruction. The breeding grounds are used for hay and pastures. Light agricultural use is beneficial, whereas intensive grazing removes needed cover. Hunting is a threat of unknown dimensions, especially in the mid-Atlantic coastal zone (Gibbs, pers. comm.). In Minnesota, habitat is threatened by agriculture and gamebird management activities (Coffin and Pfannmuller 1988). The timing of flooding for waterfowl management differs from the natural flooding cycle of the migratory habitat of the rails (Rundle and Fredrickson 1981). Johnson and Dinsmore (1986) reported that waterfowl management can be compatible with breeding rails. In Mississippi, urbanization, development of the coastal zone, and stream alteration projects have lowered the water table and destroyed marshes.
In Illinois, a public viewing area used once a week by humans 229 m from a rookery did not cause any overt responses from nesting birds (DeMauro 1993). See Vos (1984) for information on response to human disturbance in Colorado. Predators may include the red fox (VULPES VULPES), mink (MUSTELA spp), raccoon (PROCYON LOTOR), snakes, turtles, crows (CORVUS spp), gulls (LARUS spp), hawks, owls, eagles, rats, opossum (DIDELPHIS VIRGINIANA), striped skunk (MEPHITIS MEPHITIS), river otter (LUTRA CANADENSIS), coyote (CANIS LATRANS) and bobcat (LYNX RUFUS).

Short-term Trend: Decline of 10-30%
Short-term Trend Comments: Information on population trends and historic data is scant due to difficulty of detecting birds. Becoming rare in some parts of its range, but is still common in others. Declining in North Dakota and Mississippi.

Long-term Trend: Decline of <30% to increase of 25%
Long-term Trend Comments: Birdlife International reports a small and insignificant increase over the last 40 years bsed on Breeding Bird Census surveys and Christmas Bird Counts (Birdlife International, 2014).

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable to not intrinsically vulnerable.
Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Degradation of its breeding habitat due to draining of wetlands for agriculture makes this species vulnerable to further pouplation declines.

Environmental Specificity: Moderate. Generalist or community with some key requirements scarce.
Environmental Specificity Comments: Its breeding habitat is often prime location for human developmet, making this species' key breeding requirements an increasingly rare commodity.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Determine current distribution, abundance, and population trend, especially in prairie states and coastal areas.

Protection Needs: Protect remaining habitat, especially coastal marshes and prairie pothole marshes. Discourage stream alteration projects that lower the water table in wetland rail habitat. Eddleman et al. (1988) made the following protection recommendations for North American rallids: enforce the 1985 Farm Act to protect wetlands from agricultural damage; accelerate U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquisition of wetlands with high elevational diversity and high percentage of emergent vegetation; resume congressional funding of the Accelerated Research Program for Migratory and Upland Game Birds that funds research on habitat management; institute a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hunting stamp for hunting rails and migratory game birds other than waterfowl to facilitate data collection and promote habitat protection.

Global Range: (20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDING: locally from northwestern Alberta to central Saskatchewan, Manitoba, northern New York (Gibbs, pers. comm.), Maine, and New Brunswick, south to southern Alberta, northeastern Montana, North Dakota, Michigan, southern Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, southern Ontario, and New England; formerly south to southern Ohio and northern Illinois (Bookhout 1995). Nested formerly in eastern California, where current nesting is a possibility. Recently rediscovered nesting in southern Oregon (Stern et al. 1993). Formerly occurred in State of Mexico, Rio Lerma Valley (subspecies GOLDMANI) where last reported in 1964 (Bookhout 1995). NON-BREEDING: mostly on Coastal Plain in southeastern U.S. from Texas to North Carolina; scattered records in California from Humboldt to Riverside Counties (Bookhout 1995).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The maps for birds represent the breeding status by state and province. In some jurisdictions, the subnational statuses for common species have not been assessed and the status is shown as not-assessed (SNR). In some jurisdictions, the subnational status refers to the status as a non-breeder; these errors will be corrected in future versions of these maps. A species is not shown in a jurisdiction if it is not known to breed in the jurisdiction or if it occurs only accidentally or casually in the jurisdiction. Thus, the species may occur in a jurisdiction as a seasonal non-breeding resident or as a migratory transient but this will not be indicated on these maps. See other maps on this web site that depict the Western Hemisphere ranges of these species at all seasons of the year.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AR, CA, DC, FL, GA, IA, ILextirpated, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NJ, NY, OHextirpated, OR, SD, TX, VA, WI
Canada AB, BC, MB, NB, NT, NU, ON, QC, SK

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at

Range Map Compilers: WILDSPACETM 2002

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
CA Merced (06047)*
MI Alger (26003), Chippewa (26033), Luce (26095)*, Mackinac (26097), Roscommon (26143), Schoolcraft (26153)*
MN Aitkin (27001), Becker (27005), Beltrami (27007), Benton (27009)*, Cass (27021), Clay (27027), Clearwater (27029), Cook (27031), Crow Wing (27035)*, Itasca (27061), Kanabec (27065), Kittson (27069), Lake of the Woods (27077), Mahnomen (27087), Marshall (27089), Mille Lacs (27095), Morrison (27097), Norman (27107), Otter Tail (27111), Pennington (27113), Pine (27115), Polk (27119), Roseau (27135), Sherburne (27141)*, St. Louis (27137), Stearns (27145)*, Todd (27153), Wadena (27159), Wilkin (27167)
MO Chariton (29041), Holt (29087), Lincoln (29113), Livingston (29117), Pike (29163), Stoddard (29207), Wayne (29223)
MS Forrest (28035)*, Harrison (28047), Jackson (28059), Lamar (28073)*, Pearl River (28109)*, Stone (28131)*
MT Roosevelt (30085)*, Sheridan (30091)
ND Benson (38005), Burke (38013), Grand Forks (38035), McHenry (38049), Mountrail (38061), Sheridan (38083), Stutsman (38093)
OR Klamath (41035), Lake (41037)
SD Faulk (46049)
WI Ashland (55003), Barron (55005), Bayfield (55007), Burnett (55013), Calumet (55015), Chippewa (55017), Door (55029), Douglas (55031), Forest (55041), Langlade (55067), Marinette (55075), Marquette (55077), Monroe (55081), Oconto (55083), Oneida (55085), Sawyer (55113), Vilas (55125)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
03 Pascagoula (03170006)+*, Black (03170007)+*, Mississippi Coastal (03170009)+, Lower Pearl. Mississippi (03180004)+*
04 Baptism-Brule (04010101)+, St. Louis (04010201)+, Beartrap-Nemadji (04010301)+, Bad-Montreal (04010302)+, Betsy-Chocolay (04020201)+*, Manitowoc-Sheboygan (04030101)+, Door-Kewaunee (04030102)+, Oconto (04030104)+, Peshtigo (04030105)+, Upper Fox (04030201)+, Wolf (04030202)+, Muskegon (04060102)+, Manistique (04060106)+, Carp-Pine (04070002)+
07 Mississippi Headwaters (07010101)+, Leech Lake (07010102)+, Prairie-Willow (07010103)+, Elk-Nokasippi (07010104)+, Pine (07010105)+, Crow Wing (07010106)+, Redeye (07010107)+, Long Prairie (07010108)+, Platte-Spunk (07010201)+, Clearwater-Elk (07010203)+*, Rum (07010207)+, Upper St. Croix (07030001)+, Snake (07030004)+, Lower St. Croix (07030005)+, Upper Chippewa (07050001)+, Flambeau (07050002)+, Lower Chippewa (07050005)+, Red Cedar (07050007)+, Upper Wisconsin (07070001)+, Castle Rock (07070003)+, The Sny (07110004)+, Salt (07110007)+
08 Lower St. Francis (08020203)+
09 Lower Souris (09010003)+, Upper Red (09020104)+, Buffalo (09020106)+, Eastern Wild Rice (09020108)+, Devils Lake (09020201)+, Upper Sheyenne (09020202)+, Sandhill-Wilson (09020301)+, Red Lake (09020303)+, Thief (09020304)+, Clearwater (09020305)+, Grand Marais-Red (09020306)+, Turtle (09020307)+, Snake (09020309)+, Lower Red (09020311)+, Two Rivers (09020312)+, Roseau (09020314)+, Big Fork (09030006)+, Rapid (09030007)+, Lake of the Woods (09030009)+
10 Big Muddy (10060006)+, Brush Lake closed basin (10060007)+, Lake Sakakawea (10110101)+, Apple (10130103)+, Snake (10160008)+, Tarkio-Wolf (10240005)+, Nodaway (10240010)+, Lower Grand (10280103)+
17 Little Deschutes (17070302)+, Summer Lake (17120005)+
18 Williamson (18010201)+, Sprague (18010202)+, Upper Klamath Lake (18010203)+, Middle San Joaquin-Lower (18040001)+*
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A small marsh bird (rail).
General Description: A small buffy rail with very secretive habits (Peterson 1980). White wing patch noticeable in flight. Has a very short greenish bill and a striped, checkered back with buff and black (Peterson 1980). The male's bill turns black after the breeding season. Weight 50-55 g; 15 to 19 cm (6 to 7.5 inches) long; wingspan 25 to 33 cm (10 to 13 inches) (Evers 1990). Males are generally larger than females.

Both the male and female are capable of calling. The calls consist of a long, continued series of pairs and triplets of "ticks" (Savaloja 1981). The female has a variety of calls used when protecting young. A "rowr" is used when the nest is disturbed, a whining may be used to attract young, and moans may be given when brooding (Savaloja 1981). Males call during northward migration and females do not. During the pre-incubation period the males will give their calls nightly for hours, stopping for only a few minutes each hour. Calling continues (at lower levels) during and after incubation but generally ends in mid-August.

The chicks have a pink bill and are black in color. The bill fades and eventually becomes black in its juvenile stage. Juveniles are darker than adults and have white barred breast areas and distinctive spots on the head. Young chicks and juveniles give various sounds described as "wees" and "peeps" (Savaloja 1981).

Diagnostic Characteristics: Small size; striped yellow and black above with small white crossbars; in flight shows a large white patch on trailing edges of wings; bill short and thick. Call is a four- or five-note tik-tik, tik-tik-tik, in alternate twos and threes (National Geographic Society 1999).
Reproduction Comments: Sexual activity usually takes place in the late morning hours. Lay six to ten eggs per clutch (Savaloja 1981, Brewer et al. 1991) with eight being the average. In Minnesota and North Dakota eggs are laid in late May and early June (Savaloja 1981). Incubation begins after the last egg is laid and lasts 13 to 20 days (Harrison 1979, Savaloja 1981). Female incubates and does not leave the nest at night during this time. Within one day of hatching the young leave the nest and are cared for by female. The young can feed on their own at 11 days (Stenzel 1983). Fledge at five weeks (Stahlhelm 1974). Renesting may occur if initial nests are destroyed or unsuccessful.
Ecology Comments: Male territories are an average of 7.8 ha (19 acres), and are established within one week of their arrival (Bookhout and Stenzel 1987). Territories may encompass multiple female activity areas. The activity areas used by females average 1.2 ha (3 acres) during pre-incubation, decreasing to 0.3 ha (0.7 acres) during incubation (Bookhout and Stenzel 1987). Adult birds are flightless for several weeks during molting (mid- to late August) (Savaloja 1981).
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Generally arrives on northern nesting range in March-April (Terres 1980).
Estuarine Habitat(s): Herbaceous wetland
Palustrine Habitat(s): Bog/fen, HERBACEOUS WETLAND, Riparian
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Cropland/hedgerow, Grassland/herbaceous
Habitat Comments: BREEDING: Emergent wetlands, grass or sedge marshes and wet meadows in freshwater situations. Some breeding territories in these wet meadows contain firm footing and only a few remnant pools of water (Berkey 1991). These areas can range from damp to 38 cm (15 inches) of water but the average depth used for nesting is 8 to 15 cm (3 to 6 inches) (Savaloja 1981). Choose shallow water habitats over deep marsh zones. The vegetation ranges in height from about 5 to over 60 cm (2 to over 24 inches). This variation depends on the area and the time of year. In Minnesota, nest in large marshes composed of mixed sedge and bulrush, with cattails in deeper areas (Hanowski and Niemi 1990). The largest populations in North Dakota are in fens (bogs) with thick, soft mats of dead vegetation (Berkey 1991). In Manitoba, the birds are found in small boggy areas (Savaloja 1981). In the Great Lakes Region, nearly exclusively associated with CAREX spp. (Evers 1990). In Michigan, nest sites predominantly among the sedge CAREX LASIOCARPA (Bart et al. 1984, Bookhout and Stenzel 1987, Brewer et al. 1991). In Maine, found in damp, low-lying areas with water depths of 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches) in otherwise dried-out portions of floodplains with a senescent mat composed of previous year's sedge growth (Gibbs et al. 1991). Habitats in Maine contained low densities of sedge, rush, and grass stems compared to other areas. Birds will use freshly burned area for territories only if burned after they have arrived to the breeding area (Savaloja 1981). NON-BREEDING: grain fields in winter and when migrating. Winters in both freshwater and brackish marshes, as well as in dense, deep grass. During fall migration, will use many open habitats, from rice paddies to dry hayfields. Winters are spent in a variety of areas, including salt-marshes, grain fields, damp grassy meadows, and freshwater marshes. In the south, the bird winters in agricultural fields and occasionally in rice fields (Berkey 1991).
Adult Food Habits: Granivore, Herbivore, Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Granivore, Herbivore, Invertivore
Food Comments: Reported foods include small snails, insects, seeds, grasses, and clover leaves (Terres 1980). Vegetation and invertebrates are the most common foods. Most of the feeding activity takes place during the daytime, and when searching for food in water the birds have been seen with their heads 1.5 inches under the water (Savaloja 1981). In Minnesota rails feed on the snail SUCCINEA RETUSA (Savaloja 1981). Adults will feed on snails and small invertebrates found in dry grass, and seeds, grasses, and clover leaves found in sedge marshes. When the young are being reared, snails are an important food resource.
Phenology Comments: Although rails call frequently throughout the day and extensively throughout the night, these birds are not actively nocturnal. During the nighttime they are sedentary. During the day they actively feed and do most of their nest-building. Migration occurs primarily during the night. In the fall the birds are silent and very difficult to locate, in the spring they are much easier to find.
Length: 18 centimeters
Weight: 52 grams
Economic Attributes
Economic Comments: Hunting season has been closed since 1968 (Eddleman et al. 1988).
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: Ranges from Canada through northern U.S. and winters in southern U.S. (Peterson 1980). Although populations have likely declined due to habitat alteration and destruction, information on current status and past trends for this species is not available. If existing populations and their habitats are monitored and protected and if unoccupied suitable habitat is protected, populations may be maintained.
Restoration Potential: Able to occupy new habitat as it becomes available (Robbins 1991). If wetlands habitat is protected and monitored, then this species may be maintained. Can inhabit areas that have been burned and are free of excessive woody vegetation and urbanization.
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: The breeding habitat should consist of wetlands, grass or sedge marshes, and wet meadows. Vegetation in this area should range from 5 to 60 cm (2 to over 24 inches) (Berkey 1991) and the degree of wetness should range from damp to 38 cm (15 inches) of water (Savaloja 1981). In Michigan it is essential that CAREX spp. be present. The nesting areas should be at least eight ha for males to establish territories, which may overlap. Females need an area of two ha or more for establishing activity areas. Nesting habitat must contain some dead vegetation available for building the nest. Quality of the feeding habitat depends primarily on the availability and accessibility of prey items. A preserve must include enough habitat to support sufficient prey populations. It is important that snails, insects, seeds, and grasses are available for foraging.
Management Requirements: It is crucial that wetland habitats are maintained. Management of this habitat should include restrictions on wetland draining and coastal development that eliminate breeding sites, and the restriction of stream alteration projects that lower the water table in wetland habitat. Other management factors include vegetation succession, changes in hydrology, and human-disturbance.

Water level management is crucial to maintain the required sedge- and grass-dominated plant cover (Gibbs et al. 1991). Extensive draining and ditching of wetlands can be harmful because it can eliminate breeding sites completely.

Woody vegetation reduces the suitability of wetland habitat. In northern Michigan, prescribed and controlled burns serve to rejuvenate sedge growth, prevent the buildup of dead vegetation, limit woody growth, and impede the establishment of boreal flora (such as sphagnum moss and willows) (Evers 1990). While dead grass and sedges are used for nest platforms and as cover, excessive buildup can act as a wick for evaporation and will eventually fill up the marsh (Savaloja 1981). In Minnesota, if a marsh is burned before rails have arrived in the breeding area, they will use available unburned areas instead, but if burning is done after they have arrived, they will use the freshly burned marsh (Savaloja 1981). In northern Michigan, burning may prove to be a beneficial management tool, but is not recommended in the northeast because too many other rare species are associated with the sedge meadows where rails are found (Gibbs pers. comm.).

Because livestock grazing can lead to loss of cover, trampling, and disturbance of nesting pairs, it should be eliminated or reduced to a very low level in breeding areas (Eddleman et al. 1988).

Monitoring Requirements: Current sites (breeding and wintering) and habitats occupied by these birds should be monitored. Infrared photography can be used to help identify habitat. Densities can be calculated by using the strip-transect procedure or spot mapping via triangulation (Bookhout, pers. comm.). See Bart et al. (1984) for information on survey methods. More intensive surveys are needed in Maine and in the Northeastern United States.
Management Research Needs: Life history information including breeding biology and demographics would be beneficial for future management programs. Also, if natural water level fluctuations could be understood, this would be an important factor for supporting populations over the long-term. Investigate the effects of livestock grazing on winter habitat (Eddleman et al. 1988).
Biological Research Needs: Research on migratory routes, natural water level fluctuations, and behavior is needed. A more definitive determination of the status and distribution in Maine and elsewhere in the Northeastern U.S. is needed (Gibbs et al. 1991).
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Group Name: Rails

Use Class: Breeding
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of historical breeding, or current and likely recurring breeding, at a given location, minimally a reliable observation of one or more breeding pairs in appropriate habitat. Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single breeding events outside the normal breeding distribution.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: The high potential for gene flow among populations of birds separated by fairly large distances makes it difficult to circumscribe occurrences on the basis of meaningful population units without occurrences becoming too large. Hence, a moderate, standardized separation distance has been adopted for rails; it should yield occurrences that are not too spatially expansive while also accounting for the likelihood of gene flow among populations within a few kilometers of each other.

Little information available, but most rails appear to have very small breeding home ranges: Clapper Rail, varies from an average of 0.4 hectares in California and Louisiana (Zembal et al. 1989) to 3.6 hectares (incubating males) in Arizona; Eddleman 1989); Sora, average of 0.19 ha during brood-rearing (Johnson and Dinsmore 1985). Dispersal distances are poorly known but surely extend at least a few kilometers.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): .1 km
Date: 10Sep2004
Author: Cannings, S., and G. Hammerson
Notes: Includes all species in the family Rallidae.

Use Class: Nonbreeding
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of traditional occurrence (including historical); minimally a reliable observation of 10 or more wintering or resident individuals in appropriate habitat (for rare taxa can be minimally one individual). Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single events outside the normal distribution.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: Separation distances are arbitrary and attempt to balance the general sedentary nature of these birds with their capability to disperse significant distances across suitable and unsuitable habitat.

Nonbreeding home ranges are relatively small. In Arizona, home ranges of non-breeding Clapper Rails significantly larger than breeding home ranges; varied from 21.0 hectares (August-October females) to 24.0 hectares (winter males; Eddleman 1989); elsewhere home ranges considerably smaller (Zembal et al. 1989). Soras wintering in Arizona had average home range sizes of 0.78 hectares (Conway 1990). Even at the northern end of their wintering range (British Columbia), Virginia Rails can persist in spring-fed marshes less than 1 ha in extent (R. J. Cannings, pers. comm.)

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): .1 km
Date: 10Sep2004
Author: Cannings, S., and G. Hammerson
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 01Apr2014
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Jennings, R., B. Van Dam, J. D. Soule, and G. Hammerson
Management Information Edition Date: 30Sep1993
Management Information Acknowledgments: The author thanks all the state Heritage Program personnel who responded to requests for information: Massachusetts - Kelly Slater; Florida - Katy NeSmith; Rhode Island - Rick Enser; Kansas - Bill Busby; New York - Paul Novak; Minnesota - Mary Miller; North Dakota - Randy Kreil; California - Darlene McGriff; Mississippi - Tom Mann; Tennessee Valley Authority - Charles Nicholson; Iowa - Daryl Howell; Texas - Dean Keddy-Hector; New Jersey - Rick Dutko; Alabama - Mark Bailey; North Carolina - Harry LeGrand; Indiana - Michelle Martin; Wisconsin - Karen Gaines; Louisiana - Steve Shively; Kentucky - Brainard Palmer-Ball; Nevada - Glenn Clemmer; Ohio - Dan Rice; Arkansas - Bill Shepherd; New Mexico - Tina Carlson; Arizona - Barry Spicer; Nebraska - Mary Clausen; Alaska - Ed West; Georgia - Jon Ambrose; South Dakota - Eileen Dowd Stukel; Tennessee - Bob Hatch; Maryland - Lynn Davidson; Missouri - Jim Wilson; Illinois - Vernon Kleen; South Carolina - John Cely; Oregon - Mark Stern; Guy Jolicoeur of Le Centre De Donnees Sur Le Patrimoine Natural Du Quebec. James P. Gibbs of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Theodore A. Bookhout of the Ohio Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit reviewed an earlier draft and provided suggestions that added to the final document.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 14Jan1994
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. 2005. Conserving Alabama's wildlife: a comprehensive strategy. Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Montgomery, Alabama. 303 pages. [Available online at ]

  • Alabama Ornithological Society. 2006. Field checklist of Alabama birds. Alabama Ornithological Society, Dauphin Island, Alabama. [Available online at ]

  • Alvo, R et M. Robert. 1999. COSEWIC Status Report on the Yellow Rail, Coturnicops noveboracensis. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. 72 p.

  • Alvo, R. 1999. COSEWIC status report on the Yellow Rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis) in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa, ON. 72pp.

  • Alvo, R. and M. Robert. 1999. Status report on the Yellow Rail, COTURNICOPS NOVEBORACENSIS. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). 72 pp.

  • American Ornithologists Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American Birds. 7th edition. American Ornithologists Union, Washington, D.C. 829 pages.

  • American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1983. Check-list of North American Birds, 6th edition. Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas. 877 pp.

  • American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online:

  • Aquin, P. 1999. Évaluation de la situation des groupes taxonomiques des oiseaux du Québec. Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Faune. 13 pages.

  • B83COM01NAUS - Added from 2005 data exchange with Alberta, Canada.

  • Bart, J., R. A. Stehn, J. A. Herrick, N. A. Heaslip, T. A. Bookhout, and J. R. Stenzel. 1984. Survey methods for breeding yellow rails. Journal of Wildlife Management 48:1382-1386.

  • Beaulieu, H. 1992. Liste des espèces de la faune vertébrée susceptibles d'être désignées menacées ou vulnérables. Ministère du Loisir, de la Chasse et de la Pêche. 107 p.

  • Berkey, G. 1991. Yellow Rails: birds that go click in the night. North Dakota Outdoors, March 1991:8-9.

  • BirdLife International. (2013-2014). IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on various dates in 2013 and 2014.

  • BirdLife International. 2004b. Threatened birds of the world 2004. CD ROM. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.

  • Bookhout, T.A. 1995. Yellow Rail (COTURNICOPS NOVEBORACENSIS). In A. Poole and F. Gill, editors, The Birds of North America, No. 139. Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, DC. 16 pp.

  • Bookhout, T.A., and J.R. Stenzel. 1987. Habitat and movements of breeding Yellow Rails. Wilson Bulletin 99(3):441-447.

  • Brewer, R., G.A. McPeek, and R.J. Adams, Jr. 1991. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, Michigan. xvii + 594 pp.

  • Campbell, R.W., et al. 1990. The Birds of British Columbia, Vol. 2, Nonpasserines: Diurnal Birds of Prey through Woodpeckers. Royal B.C. Mus. in association with Environ. Can., Can. Wildl. Serv.

  • Canadian Wildlife Service. 1995. Last Mountain Lake and Stalwart National Wildlife Areas: Bird Checklist - Fourth Edition. Environment Canada. Ottawa, ON.

  • Carter, M., C. Hunter, D. Pashley, and D. Petit. 1998. The Watch List. Bird Conservation, Summer 1998:10.

  • Coffin, B., and L. Pfannmuller, editors. 1988. Minnesota's endangered flora and fauna. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 473 pp.

  • Coffin, B., and L. Pfannmuller, eds. 1988. Minnesota's endangered flora and fauna. Univ. Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 473 pp.

  • Conway, C. J. 1990. Seasonal changes in movements and habitat use by three sympatric species of rails. M.Sc.thesis, University of Wyoming, Laramie.

  • Cyr, A. et J. Larivée. 1995. Atlas saisonnier des oiseaux du Québec. Les Presses de l'Université de Sherbrooke et La Société de Loisir Ornithologique de l'Estrie, inc. Sherbrooke 711p.

  • Desrosiers A., F. Caron et R. Ouellet. 1995. Liste de la faune vertébrée du Québec. Les publications du Québec. 122

  • Eddleman, W. R. 1989. Biology of the Yuma Clapper Rail in the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. Final Report, Intra-Agency Agreement No. 4-AA-30-02060, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Yuma Project Office, Yuma, AZ.

  • Eddleman, W. R., F. L. Knopf, B. Meanley, F. A. Reid, and R. Zembal. 1988. Conservation of North American rallids. Wilson Bulletin 100:458-475.

  • Elliot, R.D., and R.I.G. Morrison. 1979. The incubation period of the yellow rail. Auk 96(2):422-423.

  • Environment Canada. 2012g. Management Plan for the Yellow Rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis) in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. iii + 23 pp.

  • Environment Canada. 2013f. Management Plan for the Yellow Rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. iii + 24 pp.

  • Evers, D. C. 1992. A guide to Michigan's endangered wildlife. Univ. Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. viii + 103 pp.

  • Evers, D.C. 1990. Yellow Rail, COTURNICOPS NOVEBORACENSIS (Gmelin). Draft species abstract for Michigan Heritage Program, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Lansing, MI.

  • Gauthier, J. et Y. Aubry (sous la direction de) 1995. Les oiseaux nicheurs du Québec : Atlas des oiseaux nicheurs du Québec méridional. Association québécoise des groupes d'ornithologues, Société québécoise de protection des oiseaux, Service canadien de l

  • Gibbs, J.P., W.G. Shriver, and S.M. Melvin. 1991. Spring and summer records of the Yellow Rail in Maine. Journal of Field Ornithology 62(4):509-516.

  • Godfrey, W. E. 1967. Les oiseaux du Canada.. Bulletin No 203, No 73 de la série Biologie. Musée national du Canada 506 p.

  • Godfrey, W. E. 1986. The birds of Canada. Revised edition. National Museum of Natural Sciences, Ottawa. 596 pp. + plates.

  • Grimm, M. 1991. Northeast Wisconsin Yellow Rail survey. Passenger Pigeon 53(2):115-121.

  • Hanowski, J. M., and G. J. Niemi. 1990. An approach for quantifying habitat characteristics for rare wetland birds. Pages 51-56 in Mitchell et al., editors. Ecosystem management: rare species and significant habitats. New York State Museum Bulletin 471.

  • Harrison, C. 1978. A Field Guide to the Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds. Collins, Cleveland, Ohio.

  • Harrison, H. H. 1979. A field guide to western birds' nests. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 279 pp.

  • Herkert, J. R., editor. 1992. Endangered and threatened species of Illinois: status and distribution. Vol. 2: Animals. Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board. iv + 142 pp.

  • Houston, C.S. 1969. Nesting Records of the Yellow Rail in Saskatchewan. The Blue Jay 27: 81-82.

  • Howell, S. N. G., and S. Webb. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

  • Imhof, T. A. 1976. Alabama birds. Second edition. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa. 445 pages.

  • Imhof, T. A. 1976. Alabama birds. Second edition. Univ. Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa. 445 pp.

  • Johnson, R.R., and J.J. Dinsmore. 1986. Habitat used by brooding Virginia Rails and Soras. Journal of Wildlife Management 50:387-392.

  • McAtee W.L. 1959. Folk - names of candian birds. National Museum of Canada. Folk - names of candian birds. National Museum of Canada. 74 pages.

  • McKee, R. 1987. Rock knockers and egg trails. Audubon, Sept., pp. 79, 84-87.

  • Mirarchi, R. E., M. A. Bailey, T. M. Haggerty, and T. L. Best, editors. 2004. Alabama wildlife. Volume 3. Imperiled amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 225 pages.

  • Mirarchi, R.E., editor. 2004. Alabama Wildlife. Volume 1. A checklist of vertebrates and selected invertebrates: aquatic mollusks, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 209 pages.

  • Mount, R. H., editor. 1986. Vertebrate animals of Alabama in need of special attention. Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, Auburn University, Alabama. 124 pages.

  • National Geographic Society (NGS). 1999. Field guide to the birds of North America. Third edition. National Geographic Society, Washington, DC. 480 pp.

  • Ouellet H., M. Gosselin et J.P. Artigau. 1990. Nomenclature française des oiseaux d'Amérique du Nord. Secrétariat d'État du Canada. 457 p.

  • Parker III, T. A., D. F. Stotz, and J. W. Fitzpatrick. 1996. Ecological and distributional databases for neotropical birds. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  • Parks Canada. 2000. Vertebrate Species Database. Ecosystems Branch, 25 Eddy St., Hull, PQ, K1A 0M5.

  • Peterson, R. T. 1980a. A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies. Houghton Mifflin Company. 383 pp.

  • Poole, A. F. and F. B. Gill. 1992. The birds of North America. The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. and The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA.

  • Ripley, S. D. 1977. Rails of the world. M.F. Feheley Publishers, Ltd., Toronto. 406 pp. [publication by same name published by Smithsonian 1984; same?]

  • Robbins, S. D., Jr. 1991. Wisconsin birdlife: population and distribution past and present. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.

  • Robert, M. 1989. Les oiseaux menacés du Québec. Association québécoise des groupes d'ornithologues et Environnement Canada. 109 p.

  • Robert, M. 2002. Râle jaune. QuébecOiseaux, vol.14, Hors série. p.51-53

  • Robert, M., P. Lapointe et F. Shaffer. 1995. Plan d'action pour le rétablissement du Râle jaune (Coturnicops noveboracensis) au Québec. Service canadien de la faune. 38 p.

  • Rundle, W.D., and L.F. Fredrickson. 1981. Managing seasonally flooded impoundments for migrant rails and shorebirds. Wild. Soc. Bull. 9:80-87.

  • Savaloja, T. 1981. Yellow Rail. Birding 13(3):80-85.

  • Service canadien de la faune 2003. Les espèces en péril [en ligne]. Disponible sur le site internet. -Accès :«». Service canadien de la faune, 2003. [Réf. 14 janvier 2003]. .

  • Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec. 2003. Les espèces menacées [en ligne]. Disponible sur le site Internet. - Accès :«». La société, 2003 [Réf. 3 novembre 2003] .

  • Stahlhelm, P.S. 1974. Behavior and ecology of the Yellow Rail (COTURNICOPS NOVEBORACENSIS). M.S. Thesis, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. 79 pp.

  • Stenzel, J. R. 1983. Ecology of breeding yellow rails at Seney National Wildlife Refuge. M.S. thesis, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.

  • Stenzell, J. R. 1982. Ecology of breeding yellow rails at Seney National Wildlife Refuge. M.S. thesis, Ohio State Univ., Columbus.

  • Stern, M. A., J. F. Morawski, and G. A. Rosenberg. 1993. Rediscovery and status of a disjunct population of breeding yellow rails in southern Oregon. Condor 95:1024-1027.

  • Symons, R.D. 1956. Random Notes on the Yellow Rail. The Blue Jay 14: 8-10

  • Terres, J. K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

  • Zembal, R., B. M. Massey, and J. M. Fancher. 1989. Movements and activity patterns of the light-footed clapper rail. Journal of Wildlife Management 53:39-42.

Use Guidelines & Citation

Use Guidelines and Citation

The Small Print: Trademark, Copyright, Citation Guidelines, Restrictions on Use, and Information Disclaimer.

Note: All species and ecological community data presented in NatureServe Explorer at were updated to be current with NatureServe's central databases as of November 2016.
Note: This report was printed on

Trademark Notice: "NatureServe", NatureServe Explorer, The NatureServe logo, and all other names of NatureServe programs referenced herein are trademarks of NatureServe. Any other product or company names mentioned herein are the trademarks of their respective owners.

Copyright Notice: Copyright © 2017 NatureServe, 4600 N. Fairfax Dr., 7th Floor, Arlington Virginia 22203, U.S.A. All Rights Reserved. Each document delivered from this server or web site may contain other proprietary notices and copyright information relating to that document. The following citation should be used in any published materials which reference the web site.

Citation for data on website including State Distribution, Watershed, and Reptile Range maps:
NatureServe. 2017. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed:

Citation for Bird Range Maps of North America:
Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Bird Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE."

Citation for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
Patterson, B.D., G. Ceballos, W. Sechrest, M.F. Tognelli, T. Brooks, L. Luna, P. Ortega, I. Salazar, and B.E. Young. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Mammals of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Bruce Patterson, Wes Sechrest, Marcelo Tognelli, Gerardo Ceballos, The Nature Conservancy-Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International-CABS, World Wildlife Fund-US, and Environment Canada-WILDSPACE."

Citation for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe. 2004. Global Amphibian Assessment. IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe, Washington, DC and Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
"Data developed as part of the Global Amphibian Assessment and provided by IUCN-World Conservation Union, Conservation International and NatureServe."

NOTE: Full metadata for the Bird Range Maps of North America is available at:

Full metadata for the Mammal Range Maps of North America is available at:

Restrictions on Use: Permission to use, copy and distribute documents delivered from this server is hereby granted under the following conditions:
  1. The above copyright notice must appear in all copies;
  2. Any use of the documents available from this server must be for informational purposes only and in no instance for commercial purposes;
  3. Some data may be downloaded to files and altered in format for analytical purposes, however the data should still be referenced using the citation above;
  4. No graphics available from this server can be used, copied or distributed separate from the accompanying text. Any rights not expressly granted herein are reserved by NatureServe. Nothing contained herein shall be construed as conferring by implication, estoppel, or otherwise any license or right under any trademark of NatureServe. No trademark owned by NatureServe may be used in advertising or promotion pertaining to the distribution of documents delivered from this server without specific advance permission from NatureServe. Except as expressly provided above, nothing contained herein shall be construed as conferring any license or right under any NatureServe copyright.
Information Warranty Disclaimer: All documents and related graphics provided by this server and any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server are provided "as is" without warranty as to the currentness, completeness, or accuracy of any specific data. NatureServe hereby disclaims all warranties and conditions with regard to any documents provided by this server or any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server, including but not limited to all implied warranties and conditions of merchantibility, fitness for a particular purpose, and non-infringement. NatureServe makes no representations about the suitability of the information delivered from this server or any other documents that are referenced to or linked to this server. In no event shall NatureServe be liable for any special, indirect, incidental, consequential damages, or for damages of any kind arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information contained in any documents provided by this server or in any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server, under any theory of liability used. NatureServe may update or make changes to the documents provided by this server at any time without notice; however, NatureServe makes no commitment to update the information contained herein. Since the data in the central databases are continually being updated, it is advisable to refresh data retrieved at least once a year after its receipt. The data provided is for planning, assessment, and informational purposes. Site specific projects or activities should be reviewed for potential environmental impacts with appropriate regulatory agencies. If ground-disturbing activities are proposed on a site, the appropriate state natural heritage program(s) or conservation data center can be contacted for a site-specific review of the project area (see Visit Local Programs).

Feedback Request: NatureServe encourages users to let us know of any errors or significant omissions that you find in the data through (see Contact Us). Your comments will be very valuable in improving the overall quality of our databases for the benefit of all users.