|Rallus limicola||Order: Gruiformes||Family: Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)|
This beautiful but secretive marsh bird belongs to the same order as coots and cranes. It skulks about in cattail marshes and can be hard to see, but standing (or sitting) watch at the edge of a marsh where one has been calling can provide splendid looks. Virginia Rails seem quick to respond to even cheesy imitations of their call or the call of Soras.
Their forehead feathers are specially adapted to withstand wear as they push through dense, stiff cattail leaves and other marsh vegetation. They can swim under water, propelled by their wings, but seem to do this only to elude predators. They’re primarily adapted for walking: rails have the highest ratio of leg muscles to flight muscles of any birds except “ratites” such as the Ostrich, which don’t fly at all.
The Virginia Rail builds numerous “dummy nests” in addition to the one where eggs are actually laid. A clutch may include anywhere from 4 eggs to more than a dozen—the eggs are soft white with irregular gray or brown spotting. Chicks leave the nest the first day: they’re covered with thick black down.