Laterallus jamaicensis - (Gmelin, 1789)
Black Rail
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Laterallus jamaicensis (Gmelin, 1789) (TSN 176263)
French Common Names: Râle noir
Spanish Common Names: Polluela Negra
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.105641
Element Code: ABNME03040
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Birds - Other Birds
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Aves Gruiformes Rallidae Laterallus
Genus Size: C - Small genus (6-20 species)
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Concept Reference
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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: http://www.aou.org/.
Concept Reference Code: B98AOU01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Laterallus jamaicensis
Taxonomic Comments: The form in central Peru (tuerosi) has been considered a distinct species (Fjeldså 1983).
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G3G4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 09Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 20Feb2013
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by calculator
Rounded Global Status: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: Breeding range extends from North America to South America, but populations apparently are highly localized and relatively small, and trend is downward. Secretive habits and lack of information from most of range make status difficult to determine.
Nation: United States
National Status: N3B,N3N (20Feb2013)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (S2N), Arizona (S1), Arkansas (SU), California (SNR), Connecticut (SXB), Delaware (S1B), District of Columbia (SHB,SHN), Florida (S2), Georgia (S1), Illinois (S1), Indiana (SHB), Kansas (S1B), Louisiana (S2N,S1B), Maryland (S1), Mississippi (S2N), Missouri (SU), Nebraska (S1), Nevada (SNR), New Jersey (S2B,S2N), New York (S1B), North Carolina (S1), Oklahoma (S1B), South Carolina (SNRB,SNRN), Tennessee (S1), Texas (S2B), Virginia (S1B,S1N)

Other Statuses

Implied Status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): PS:PT
Comments on USESA: The eastern black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis jamaicensis) is proposed threatened by USFWS (2018).
IUCN Red List Category: NT - Near threatened

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Range is large, but distribution is highly localized. Breeding range includes California (San Francisco Bay area, Imperial Valley, San Luis Obispo County, formerly San Diego County); lower Colorado River valley, southeastern California and southwestern Arizona; Kansas (locally); northern and central Illinois, and southwestern Ohio; Atlantic coast from New York south to southern Florida; Gulf coast in eastern Texas and western Florida; Belize and Panama; and western Peru, Chile, and western Argentina (AOU 1998). This species has been recorded in summer (and possibly breeding) in Missouri, northwestern Indiana, extreme northern Baja California, Veracruz, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and (at least formerly) Puerto Rico (AOU 1998). There are a few records in Canada but no confirmed breeding. One recent record from northern Brazil (BirdLife International).

Nonbreeding range includes the California coast, southeastern California, Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, Atlantic coast north to North Carolina, and breeding range in Belize and South America (AOU 1998).

The species is regarded as casual or accidental in several additional areas (AOU 1998).

Area of Occupancy: Unknown 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments: Area of occupancy has not been determined, but it is vastly smaller than the range extent.

Number of Occurrences: 21 - 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Occurrences have not been delineated using standardized criteria, but this species appears to be represented by a fairly large number of small occurrences (subpopulations) and locations (as defined by IUCN).

Population Size: 100,000 - 1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Population includes 25,000-100,000 individuals of subspecies jamaicensis (unpublished report 'Waterbird Conservation for the Americas 2001' cited in Wetlands International 2002), plus fewer than 10,000 individuals of subspecies coturniculus (Eddleman et al. 1994). Source: BirdLife International, 2013, species factsheet: for Laterallus jamaicensis..

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Unknown
Viability/Integrity Comments: Probably the large majority of occurrences are of relatively poor viability

Overall Threat Impact Comments: Loss and degradation of wetland habitat due to drainage, dredging, filling, impounding, mining, pollutant discharge, and invasion by non-native plant species are considered the greatest threat; additional threats in various parts of the range include drought; wildfires; groundwater removal; sea level rise associated with climate change; vegetation removal and disturbance caused by livestock grazing; predation by cats, rats, and artifically large populations of native predators; agricultural expansion; and contaminants that may directly or indirectly reduce rail survival and reproductive success (Todd 1977, Tiner 1984, Kerlinger and Sutton 1989, Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990, Eddleman et al. 1994, Taylor and van Perlo 1998).

HABITAT LOSS: According to Tiner (1984), only 46% of the original 87 million ha of wetlands in the United States remained by the mid-1970s. Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s, 7,300 ha of estuarine and 178,000 ha of palustrine wetlands were lost each year. Most of this national wetland loss was attributed to agricultural development. The coastal marshlands of several Northeastern states diminished by hundreds to thousands of hectares each year in the 1970s (Tiner 1984). New Jersey and New York suffered significant wetland loss from dredge and residential development in coastal areas (Tiner 1984, Kerlinger and Sutton 1989). Connecticut also lost approximately half of its original wetland acreage (Tiner 1984). The relatively shallow wetlands used by black rails are particularly vulnerable to loss and degradation.

In many areas, common reed (Phragmites) is a weedy, invasive species which threatens the integrity of native wetland communities. Disturbed and stressed wetlands are more susceptible to Phragmites invasion than are undisturbed wetlands. The effect of Phragmites invasion and dominance on breeding habitat, the mortality rate, and reproductive success is unstudied, yet some believe it to be negative (H. Wierenga and P. Kerlinger, pers. comms.; Hess et al., in press). Marsh burning may also indirectly contribute to habitat loss by removing dead vegetation used for nesting (Pough 1951). Some saltmarshes in Maryland are burned annually, typically in late winter (S. Dawson, pers. comm.). The exact effects of marsh burning on reproductive success and habitat quality is unknown and subject to vigorous debate (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.). Tiner (1984) also noted the detrimental effects of "eat-outs" by geese, muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), and nutria (Myocastor coypus). Nutria have been included as one of the probable causes for the loss of over 5,000 acres (2,024 ha) of marsh at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland (Jayne 1990).

PREDATION: Predation by various species, especially during extreme high tides when black rails are forced from their dense cover, was well documented in California by Evens and Page (1986). The most common predators included great egrets (Ardea alba), great blue herons (Ardea herodias), and northern harriers (Circus cyaneus). Other predators include great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), short-eared owls (Asio flammeus), ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis), domestic cats, and possibly loggerhead shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus) (Orr 1947, Weske 1969, Evens and Page 1986). Although undocumented, predation by other species such as foxes, snakes, snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina), feral dogs, and raccoons (Procyon lotor) was likely. In most areas of the black rail's global range, the effects of non-native predators (cats, dogs, rats, foxes) and artificially large populations of food-augmented native predators (e.g., raccoons) are of much greater concern than incidental predation by most native predators.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Black rails are vulnerable to habitat loss/degradation, increased mortality, and reduced reproductive success caused by rising sea level and increased incidence of severe weather events associated with climate change. Storm tides and abnormally high water levels can reduce reproduction by flooding nesting areas (Bailey 1927, Todd 1977). Although undocumented, severe weather may also decrease reproductive success by reducing the invertebrate prey base during extreme drought or flooding conditions. Rising sea level may permanently eliminate habitat in areas where development adjacent to coastal wetlands prevents the wetland habitat from shifting to a higher elevation.

CONTAMINANTS: Habitat contamination by PCBs, heavy metals, or pesticides may lead to increased rail mortality and reduced reproductive success. Ingestion of lead shot by soras (Porzana carolina), a close relative of the black rail, has been documented in Maryland, and lead residues at levels lethal to waterfowl were discovered in the tissues of some of these birds (Stendell et al. 1980). Although not yet substantiated, black rails may also be contaminated by pesticides that are applied to saltmarshes or leached into wetlands from nearby agricultural fields.

OTHER HUMAN-ASSOCIATED MORTALITY: Collisions with human-made structures, such as lighthouses, towers, buildings, and wires, are a well-documented mortality source (Emerson 1904, Browne and Post 1972, Todd 1977, Hands et al. 1989). Humans have also directly increased mortality levels through various other means, including hunting (Bailey 1913; L. Bevier and H. Wierenga, pers. comms.), automobile strikes (Orr 1947), trampling by birdwatchers (Evens and Page 1986), decapitation by mowers (Clark 1884), and possibly trapping (Eddleman et al. 1988).

Short-term Trend: Decline of 10-30%
Short-term Trend Comments: Trend over the past 10 years or three generations is not well documented, but distribution and abundance probably have continued to decline at a "moderately rapid rate" (BirdLife International, 2013, species factsheet: for Laterallus jamaicensis).

Long-term Trend: Decline of 30-80%
Long-term Trend Comments: This species has experienced an ongoing long-term decline in distribution and abundance (Eddleman et al. 1988, Hands et al. 1989, Kerlinger and Sutton 1989, Armistead 1990, Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990, Evens et al. 1991, Davidson 1992). The degree of decline is not precisely known; based on available records of black rails and trends in rail habitat, the decline has been quite large. In many areas where this species has been found, it is not consistently present from year to year.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Protection Needs: Maintain suitable wetland habitats. Protect nesting areas. Eddleman et al. (1988) made the following protection recommendations for North American raillids: enforce the 1985 Farm Act to protect wetlands from agricultural damage; accelerate U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) 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 to fund research on habitat management; institute a USFWS hunting stamp for hunting rails and other migratory game birds other than waterfowl (this would facilitate contacting the harvesting public for data and provide funds for habitat protection); review status of the black rail; integrate the management of national wildlife refuges to provide habitat for waterfowl, rails and other waterbirds.

Distribution
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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Range is large, but distribution is highly localized. Breeding range includes California (San Francisco Bay area, Imperial Valley, San Luis Obispo County, formerly San Diego County); lower Colorado River valley, southeastern California and southwestern Arizona; Kansas (locally); northern and central Illinois, and southwestern Ohio; Atlantic coast from New York south to southern Florida; Gulf coast in eastern Texas and western Florida; Belize and Panama; and western Peru, Chile, and western Argentina (AOU 1998). This species has been recorded in summer (and possibly breeding) in Missouri, northwestern Indiana, extreme northern Baja California, Veracruz, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and (at least formerly) Puerto Rico (AOU 1998). There are a few records in Canada but no confirmed breeding. One recent record from northern Brazil (BirdLife International).

Nonbreeding range includes the California coast, southeastern California, Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, Atlantic coast north to North Carolina, and breeding range in Belize and South America (AOU 1998).

The species is regarded as casual or accidental in several additional areas (AOU 1998).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
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, AZ, CA, CTextirpated, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, KS, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, NE, NJ, NV, NY, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA

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 www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2002


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
AZ La Paz (04012), Mohave (04015), Yuma (04027)
CA Alameda (06001), Butte (06007), Contra Costa (06013), Imperial (06025), Los Angeles (06037)*, Marin (06041), Monterey (06053)*, Napa (06055), Nevada (06057), Orange (06059), Placer (06061), Riverside (06065), Sacramento (06067), San Bernardino (06071), San Diego (06073)*, San Francisco (06075)*, San Joaquin (06077), San Luis Obispo (06079), San Mateo (06081), Santa Barbara (06083)*, Santa Clara (06085), Santa Cruz (06087), Shasta (06089), Solano (06095), Sonoma (06097), Sutter (06101), Ventura (06111)*, Yuba (06115)
CT Middlesex (09007)*, New Haven (09009)*, New London (09011)*
DE Kent (10001), Sussex (10005)
FL Brevard (12009), Dixie (12029), Franklin (12037), Hernando (12053), Miami-Dade (12086), Pasco (12101), Taylor (12123), Volusia (12127), Wakulla (12129)
GA Camden (13039), Glynn (13127), Greene (13133), Oconee (13219)
IL DuPage (17043)*, Jasper (17079), Lee (17103)*, Marion (17121)
IN Lagrange (18087)*, Lake (18089)*, Newton (18111)*, Tipton (18159)*
KS Barber (20007), Barton (20009), Comanche (20033), Stafford (20185)
MD Anne Arundel (24003), Baltimore County (24005), Calvert (24009)*, Dorchester (24019), Prince Georges (24033)*, Somerset (24039), Talbot (24041)
MO Callaway (29027)
MS Hancock (28045), Harrison (28047), Jackson (28059), Madison (28089)
NC Carteret (37031), Currituck (37053), Dare (37055), Hyde (37095), New Hanover (37129), Onslow (37133), Pamlico (37137)
NE Clay (31035), Knox (31107), Lancaster (31109)
NJ Atlantic (34001), Bergen (34003), Burlington (34005), Cape May (34009), Cumberland (34011), Ocean (34029), Sussex (34037)
NV Clark (32003), Nye (32023)
NY Suffolk (36103)
OK Alfalfa (40003)*, Beaver (40007), Ellis (40045), Greer (40055)*, Johnston (40069)*, Noble (40103)*, Osage (40113)*, Tillman (40141), Woodward (40153)
TN Greene (47059)*
VA Accomack (51001)
WY Albany (56001)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
01 Lower Connecticut (01080205)+*, Thames (01100003)+*, Quinnipiac (01100004)+*, Housatonic (01100005)+*
02 Rondout (02020007)+, Hackensack-Passaic (02030103)+, Southern Long Island (02030202)+, Long Island Sound (02030203)+*, Cohansey-Maurice (02040206)+, Broadkill-Smyrna (02040207)+, Mullica-Toms (02040301)+, Great Egg Harbor (02040302)+, Gunpowder-Patapsco (02060003)+, Severn (02060004)+, Choptank (02060005)+, Patuxent (02060006)+*, Western Lower Delmarva (02080109)+, Eastern Lower Delmarva (02080110)+, Pokomoke-Western Lower Delmarva (02080111)+
03 Albemarle (03010205)+, Pamlico (03020104)+, Pamlico Sound (03020105)+, Lower Neuse (03020204)+, White Oak River (03020301)+, New River (03020302)+, Lower Cape Fear (03030005)+, Upper Oconee (03070101)+, Cumberland-St. Simons (03070203)+, St. Marys (03070204)+, Upper St. Johns (03080101)+, Everglades (03090202)+, Crystal-Pithlachascotee (03100207)+, Econfina-Steinhatchee (03110102)+, Apalachee Bay-St. Marks (03120001)+, Apalachicola Bay (03130014)+, Mississippi Coastal (03170009)+, Middle Pearl-Strong (03180002)+
04 Little Calumet-Galien (04040001)+*, St. Joseph (04050001)+*
05 Wildcat (05120107)+*, Little Wabash (05120114)+, Skillet (05120115)+
06 Nolichucky (06010108)+*
07 Green (07090007)+*, Kankakee (07120001)+*, Iroquois (07120002)+*, Des Plaines (07120004)+*, Middle Kaskaskia (07140202)+
10 Lower Niobrara (10150007)+, Upper Laramie (10180010)+, Salt (10200203)+, West Fork Big Blue (10270203)+, Lower Missouri (10300200)+
11 Rattlesnake (11030009)+, Cow (11030011)+, North Fork Ninnescah (11030014)+, Upper Cimarron-Liberal (11040006)+, Upper Cimarron-Bluff (11040008)+, Lower Cimarron (11050003)+*, Medicine Lodge (11060003)+, Lower Salt Fork Arkansas (11060004)+*, Bird (11070107)+*, Lower Canadian-Deer (11090201)+, Lower Wolf (11100203)+, Lower Salt Fork Red (11120202)+*, West Cache (11130203)+, Lower Washita (11130304)+*
15 Lower Virgin (15010010)+, Imperial Reservoir (15030104)+, Lower Colorado (15030107)+, Bill Williams (15030204)+
18 Lower Pit (18020003)+, Lower American (18020111)+, Upper Yuba (18020125)+, Upper Bear (18020126)+, Big Chico Creek-Sacramento River (18020157)+, Butte Creek (18020158)+, Honcut Headwaters-Lower Feather (18020159)+, Upper Coon-Upper Auburn (18020161)+, Lower Sacramento (18020163)+, San Joaquin Delta (18040003)+, Upper Mokelumne (18040012)+, Suisun Bay (18050001)+, San Pablo Bay (18050002)+, Coyote (18050003)+, San Francisco Bay (18050004)+, Tomales-Drake Bays (18050005)+, San Francisco Coastal South (18050006)+*, San Lorenzo-Soquel (18060001)+, Central Coastal (18060006)+, Carmel (18060012)+*, Santa Barbara Coastal (18060013)+*, Calleguas (18070103)+*, Santa Monica Bay (18070104)+*, San Gabriel (18070106)+, Seal Beach (18070201)+, Santa Ana (18070203)+, Newport Bay (18070204)+, San Luis Rey-Escondido (18070303)+*, San Diego (18070304)+*, Cottonwood-Tijuana (18070305)+*, Upper Amargosa (18090202)+, Carrizo Creek (18100202)+, San Felipe Creek (18100203)+, Salton Sea (18100204)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A small marsh bird (rail).
General Description: The smallest member of the Rallidae breeding in North America. The sexes are similar in size, averaging 10-15 centimeters in length and weighing 29-38 grams(Weske 1969, Ripley 1977, Todd 1977). Males are blackish above with a chestnut-brown nape patch and small white spots on the lower back, wings, rump, and tail. The head, breast, and upper abdomen are blackish- gray. The lower abdomen, flanks, and undertail coverts are blackish with narrow white barring. Adults have blackish-gray bills and red eyes (Ridgeway and Friedman 1941, NGS 1983). One study suggests most females are noticeably lighter-gray below and whitish in the area of the throat (W. R. Eddleman, pers. comm.). Leg color descriptions include greenish or yellowish-green, "pinkish-horn," and dark grayish-brown (Ridgeway and Friedman 1941, Wilds 1986). Whether this variation can be attributed to differences in age or subspecies is not documented. Several observers studying captives in the Northeast agree on a brownish-gray or "grayed-off blackish-brown" description of the leg color (Meanley and Stewart 1960, Post and Enders 1969, Weske 1969). Juveniles are duller overall than adults and have brown eyes which change to red within the first six months, usually by October (W. R. Eddleman, pers. comm.).

EGGS: oval and buffy-white with fine brown dots (Harrison 1975).

NEST: constructed in dense vegetation within a few centimeters of the ground (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.). Individuals breeding along the lower Colorado River sometimes built nests over water which was typically less than two centimeters deep (R. Flores, pers. comm.). According to Pough (1951), nests are sometimes supported by a mat of the previous year's vegetation. The nest consists of a cup loosely woven from surrounding live and dead vegetation and is often covered by a domed arch of grass. Frequently, a ramp of dead grasses leads from the ground to an opening in the side of the nest. The nest has been compared to that of the eastern meadowlark (STURNELLA MAGNA) (Allen 1900, Harrison 1975).

VOCALIZATIONS: make a variety of calls. The most commonly heard vocalization, the primary advertisement call, is made by adult males, but may be given occasionally by females (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.). The call has been transcribed as "kic-kic- kerr" (Kellogg 1962), "kickee-doo" (Robbins et al. 1983), and "ki- ki-krr" (Weske 1969). Although this call typically contains three notes, the two introductory "ki" notes are sometimes increased to three to four, and extremes of zero to 11 have been heard (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.). This advertising call is usually repeated every three to six seconds (Reynard 1974), although lethargic singers may call much more slowly, and excited individuals often call as frequently as once per second (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.). Advertising birds may call incessantly for hours.

Another call, which has been attributed to females, is a cuckoo- like "croo-croo-croo" or "who-whoo" (Reynard 1974). An additional call has beenBlack rails are also known to vocalize a transcribed as "tic-tic-tic-McGreer" (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.), a mystery song long debated in the literature (Kellogg 1962, Post and Enders 1969) and similar to a song frequently delivered by Virginia rails (RALLUS LIMICOLA) and possibly other rails (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.). Other vocalizations, including growls, barks, and clucks (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.; Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990), and a series of "kik" notes similar to a call of the yellow rail (COTURNICOPS NOVEBORACENSIS) (Reese 1975) have been described.

Black rails iIn the Northeast, usually call between an hour or two after sunset to an hour or two before sunrise (Reynard 1974). They also call, although less frequently and less persistently, during daylight hours (Reynard 1974; Reese 1975; Armistead 1990; H. Wierenga, pers. comm.). In one southern New Jersey wetland, they are thought to call only during the day (Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990).

Diagnostic Characteristics: Young resemble the young of other rails, all of which have black downy plumage, but differs in having narrow white barring on the sides (and adults do not have downy surface plumage).
Reproduction Comments: The peak calling period in the Elliott Island marshes of Maryland is thought to occur in early to mid-May (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.), while peak calling in southern New Jersey marshes may occur from late April to mid-May (Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990). The peak nesting period is from June to mid-July (Bull 1964, Kerlinger and Sutton 1989). The earliest egg date in the Northeast is a 16 May record of a nest with six eggs in Virginia (Bailey 1927). Other egg dates range from 20 May to 8 August in Maryland (Stewart and Robbins 1958, W. Burt, pers. comm.) and from 30 May to 15 August in New Jersey (Bent 1926, Kerlinger and Sutton 1989). In Maryland, birds have been found on territory until late September (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.).

Clutch size ranges from six to ten (Harrison 1975). Incubation lasts for approximately 16-20 days and is performed by both sexes (Ehrlich et al. 1988). The clutch hatches synchronously, and the chicks leave the nest within approximately 24 hours (W. Burt, pers. comm.; Todd 1977). After hatching, the black downy young are precocial, but continue to be fed by the parents for an undetermined length of time (Ehrlich et al. 1988).

Ecology Comments: Telemetry studies conducted on a resident population on the lower Colorado River showed an average nesting home range size of 0.43 ha with a significant core area of 0.10 ha (R. Flores, pers. comm.). In this study, black rails nested in fringe marsh lining a lake. Home ranges in this habitat may be significantly different in size and shape than in extensive saltmeadow cordgrass-dominated marshes in the Northeast. Although not determined through telemetry studies, territory size in the Elliott Island marshes of Dorchester County, Maryland is estimated to be three to four ha (J. S. Weske, pers. comm.).
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Breeding populations in inland and northern Atlantic coastal areas migrate southward for winter; arrive in breeding areas in April-May. May be resident or make local migrations in California and southeastern U.S. Most black rails in the Northeast are probably migratory. Some of the earliest reported arrival dates are 10 April in New Jersey, 12 April in Maryland, and 19 April in New York (Bull 1964, Armistead 1990, Bull 1985). Southward migration is thought to occur from late September to mid-October (Bailey 1913, Todd 1977). Some of the latest fall records are 7 November in Maryland, 29 October in New York, and 1 November in New Jersey (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.; Bull 1985, 1964; respectively).
Estuarine Habitat(s): Herbaceous wetland
Palustrine Habitat(s): HERBACEOUS WETLAND
Habitat Comments: BREEDING: Salt, brackish, and freshwater marshes, pond borders, wet meadows, and grassy "swamps." Cover of vegetation peripheral to marsh may possibly be important in reducing predation on rails flushed from marsh by high tide (Evens and Page 1986). Secretive, but may emerge from cover in early morning. Nests in or along edge of marsh, in area with saturated or shallowly flooded soils and dense vegetation, usually in site hidden in marsh grass or at base of Salicornia; on damp ground, on mat of previous year's dead grasses (Terres 1980), or over very shallow water. High tides may destroy nests (see Evens and Page 1986).

In northeastern North America, breed primarily in salt and brackish marshes (Davidson 1992). Before the 1950s, most nests in the Northeast were found in saltmarshes behind coastal barrier islands (Davidson 1992). However, wet meadows and freshwater areas of narrow-leaved cattail (TYPHA ANGUSTIFOLIA) and river bulrush (SCIRPUS FLUVIATILIS) have also been documented (Griscom 1923, Proctor 1981, Armistead 1990). In salt or brackish marshes, home ranges generally include dense stands of saltmeadow cordgrass (SPARTINA PATENS) mixed with saltwater cordgrass (S. ALTERNIFLORA), big cordgrass (S. CYNOSUROIDES), marsh spikegrass (DISTICHLIS SPICATA), black needlerush (JUNCUS ROEMERIANUS), black rush (J. GERARDI), or Olney's threesquare (SCIRPUS OLNEYI) (H. Wierenga, pers. comm., Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990). Also occur in the dryer, upland edges of these marshes where saltmeadow cordgrass mixes with marsh elder (IVA FRUTESCENS) and groundsel tree (BACCHARIS HALIMIFOLIA) in the saltbush community and with common reed (PHRAGMITES AUSTRALIS) in disturbed areas (Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990).

Research in wetlands along the lower Colorado River has revealed that water depth is an important and perhaps key habitat component. Black rails there are found typically where the water depth is less than two to four centimeters (R. Flores, pers. comm.). Other significant habitat factors may include vegetation density, distance to open water, and water regime stability (R. Flores, pers. comm.). Nesting takes place in the highest sections of the marsh, which have mesic to hydric soils and are flooded by only the highest tides (Todd 1977, Andrle and Carroll 1988). The area around the nest also typically includes lower wet areas, such as shallow pools and potholes (Andrle and Carroll 1988; W. Burt, W. R. Eddleman and H. Wierenga, pers. comms.).

NON-BREEDING: probably similar to breeding habitat, at least in eastern North America (Eddleman et al. 1994). Sites occupied in winter in San Francisco Bay are lower, smaller, more linear and more fragmented than breeding habitat (Eddleman et al. 1994).

Adult Food Habits: Granivore, Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Granivore, Invertivore
Food Comments: Reported food items include insects, isopods, and seeds of aquatic plants (Terres 1980). Probes substrate or picks items from surface. The principal diet consists of aquatic invertebrates, especially insects, and the seeds of aquatic vegetation (Ehrlich et al. 1988). The stomach contents of one black rail, collected at Elliott Island, Maryland in June of 1958, were fragments of larval and adult aquatic beetles (Coleoptera). Three genera of the family Hydrophilidae were represented: ENOCHRUS, HYDROCHARA, and TROPSITERNUS. Also identified was a curculionid, or weevil, from the genus CALENDRA (Spangler 1959).
Adult Phenology: Circadian
Immature Phenology: Circadian
Phenology Comments: Active and vocal on moonlit nights (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
Length: 15 centimeters
Weight: 32 grams
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary
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Stewardship Overview: Secretive inhabitants of salt and brackish marshes, wet meadows and the margins of freshwater wetlands. Short, dense vegetation and saturated or shallowly-flooded soils are characteristic of breeding areas. In the Northeast, the bird is most common in the tidal marshes of Maryland, Delaware, and southern New Jersey. The significant loss of tidal marshes to dredging and filling, and alterations due to impoundments and pollutants, have all led to severe restrictions in the amount of available habitat for black rails. Their usage of drier wetlands, which are more easily and readily developed, has also contributed significantly to their localized, and small numbers. Management programs must rely upon restoring natural water regimes and vegetational compositions on lands owned by state and federal agencies. Land-use practices such as ditching, impounding, dredging, and burning may be detrimental and should be studied in greater detail to determine optimal habitat management practices. Few data are available on population trends, although New Jersey and Maryland have recently begun monitoring using tape-recorded vocalizations to elicit responses (Davidson 1992).
Restoration Potential: Black rails in the Northeast have been rarely studied. Very little quantitative data exists on the basic biologic or population parameters, and the factors influencing population change and reproductive success are poorly known. Without this information, it is difficult to assess the potential for restoration to wetlands from which they are presumed extirpated or greatly reduced. In New Jersey and Maryland, may no longer breed in certain wetlands that have been altered or degraded because of human activities (Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990; H. Wierenga, pers. comm.). Restoration of viable populations to these areas may be dependent upon restoring natural water regimes and vegetation compositions (Davidson 1992).
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: The minimum habitat size required to sustain a breeding pair is undocumented and may be larger than home range or territory size alone. For example, many species of passerines require forests much larger than their territory size to successfully reproduce (Robbins 1979). This has been rarely studied in marsh birds.

An important element in designing a preserve would be to include enough area to protect habitat from alteration, especially from changes in water regimes or vegetation composition. In an ideal situation, the primary ecological boundary (the smallest habitat delimiter needed to ensure a sustainable population) should include the entire marsh from which one or more black rails were located during the breeding season. This would be the most effective way to protect the area's hydrology, an important factor in determining wetland structure and composition.

A protection boundary smaller than the entire marsh could be considered if the wetland were too extensive to be included entirely in a preserve or if rails were utilizing only a small portion of a large wetland. In these situations, a minimum preserve boundary should at least include the entire territories of all individuals present. However, it is difficult to determine the exact boundaries of breeding territories from the locations of advertising adults.

Site fidelity should be another consideration when designing a preserve smaller than the entire marsh. Even though rails have been known to return to the same location over consecutive years (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.), their degree of loyalty to a particular site in a large marsh is undetermined. A preserve established to protect breeding must be large enough to allow for annual movement of territories within the preserve boundary. Thus, a larger preserve increases the chances of future breeding inside the boundary.

To provide adequate buffering against potential threats and adjacent activities, an outer, or secondary, ecological boundary should include larger areas of remaining marshland and nearby upland areas. Upland areas may provide necessary cover during extreme high tides and flooding conditions (Evens and Page 1986; W. R. Eddleman, pers. comm.) and may provide a buffer against land management activities near the marsh (Davidson 1992).

Management Requirements: See Davidson (1992) for a good summary of management issues in the northeastern U.S. and see the California Department of Fish and Game (1990) for listing of management needs in California.

Eddleman et al. (1988) provided the following information on managing waterfowl areas in a way that is compatible with the conservation of inland rails. Wetlands of the greatest importance to rallids (other than gallinules and coots) are shallower and have greater percentage cover by emergent vegetation than those typically managed for waterfowl. Dewatering in northern breeding areas should occur before April 15 to avoid disruption of rail nest initiation. Gradual dewatering (and presumably presence of topographic diversity) provides the maximum amount of favorable foraging area (edge between moist soil and marsh). Amount of nesting cover (emergent perennial vegetation) should be maximized. To provide rail habitat every year, different impoundments should be flooded in different years. 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).

For autumn migration, shallow flooding should commence in late summer in middle latitudes (vs. late autumn or winter for waterfowl), and habitat should include various shallow water depths, robust cover, and short-stemmed seed-producing plants. Flooding too deeply and too early, and deep winter flooding, lead to loss of robust plant cover.

Monitoring Requirements: Breeding Bird Atlases conducted throughout the Northeast have added greatly to the known distribution of most land birds. However, wetland species require much more intensive survey efforts before an adequate level of information can be obtained. Both New Jersey and Maryland have initiated such studies for the black rail. Other states in the Northeast, especially Delaware and Virginia, need to conduct similarly intensive surveys to more accurately determine population levels and trends (Davidson 1992).
Management Research Needs: Few studies have been conducted in the Northeast, and very little is known about even the most basic biological requirements. A fairly comprehensive list of research needs has been compiled by Hands et al. (1989). Although the list was developed for the northcentral U.S., it also applies to the Northeast. TheseSome of the basic research needs include determining reproductive success and productivity; longevity; nestling, fledgling, and adult mortality rates and causes; diet; diseases and parasites; site and mate fidelity; home range size; relative abundances at wintering, migratory, and breeding locations ; detailed habitat requirements along migratory routes and at breeding and wintering areas; analysis of contaminant levels and their effects on mortality and reproduction; and inter-specific and intra-specific levels of competition levels.

Some of the most important research needs are those which would have direct implications for land management. As discussed previously, certain land-use practices, including ditching, impounding, dredging, and burning, are considered potential threats to black rail habitat. The effects of these practices on habitat quality and quantity should be studied, and the degree of threat both to the habitat and populations should be evaluated. Land management techniques designed to restore, maintain, and enhance habitat should be developed and implemented on state and federal lands (Davidson 1992).

Population/Occurrence Delineation
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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
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 20Feb2013
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G., and M. Ormes
Management Information Edition Date: 01Jun1992
Management Information Edition Author: DAVIDSON, L.M.; REVISIONS BY M. ORMES, G. HAMMERSON, M. KOENEN, AND D.W. MEHLMAN
Management Information Acknowledgments: Parts of this abstract were originally published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Schneider and Pence (1992). Funding for the preparation of the original document was made possible by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, MA. Funding for the preparation of this report was assisted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The author gratefully acknowledges the following individuals for their assistance in providing state-specific information: K. Clark, H. F. Day, W. Eddleman, D. Emerson, R. Flores, B. and F. Haas, G. Hess, D. Krauss, W. Peterson, R. Ringler, and the staff of Natural Heritage Programs in the region. The author thanks D. A. Raspberry for editing an earlier draft, and P. Kerlinger and J. Weske for reviewing the final draft. Special thanks go to P. Spitzer for coordinating a timely and informative black rail workshop and to the individuals whose presentations, handouts, and discussions provided me with material for this report. Finally, the author is deeply indebted to E. A. T. Blom and H. Wierenga for their critical review of drafts of this report and for their assistance, information, and support, without which this report would not have been completed.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 20Feb2013
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).

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Citation for data on website including State Distribution, Watershed, and Reptile Range maps:
NatureServe. 2019. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://explorer.natureserve.org. (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:
http://www.natureserve.org/library/birdDistributionmapsmetadatav1.pdf.

Full metadata for the Mammal Range Maps of North America is available at:
http://www.natureserve.org/library/mammalsDistributionmetadatav1.pdf.

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