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How to identify Virginia Rail

identify Virginia Rail
Virginia Rail, adult. March in Riverside County, California. Photo by Brian E. Small

Denizens of dense marshes, rails slip through low vegetation on foot, seldom flying. All have loud and distinctive voices but tend to call mainly at night. Few other birds are so elusive.

Two small species, Virginia Rail and Sora, are widespread in marshes across North America. Both are fairly common, but they’re so adept at staying out of sight that most birders encounter them first by voice. Fortunately, recordings of the birds are readily available today online or in apps, making it easy to learn their calls.

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Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media