7 things you may not know about rails

So most people never see rails, and when they find out I work with rails they have a million questions. Most people are frustrated by rails, even the ones that are easier to see like Sora. I’ve had several people tell me that they don’t actually exist.

Regardless of your views on rails and the truth behind their existence here are a few awesome facts about rails.

1. Sora swim, underwater.

Thats right, they are able to dive under the water and zoom around like tiny little submarines. I didn’t believe it the first time my technicians ran over to me and told me what they saw but over the season we saw it over and over again. Every time you try and catch one they dive, you put a radio transmitter on them, you are on top of the bird and suddenly, it’s gone and pops up 20 meters away. Its crazy, but they do it.

2. Go to wetlands in the fall, right around sunset. Slam your car door.

Sora in surround sound is quite the phenomenon and during the fall they love to talk right around sunset, it’s really really cool.

3. To see rails, you may have to get wet.

When my crew and I survey for rails we go out at night with spotlight and ATVs, I’m not advocating this as a method of seeing rails since most public wetlands aren’t open at night or let you drive around on ATVs except with lots and lots of permits (and trust me, permits are a drag).

But if your local wetland will let you get into the water pull on a pair of knee boots and walk around a bit. This is by far the easiest way to see rails, watch the plants in front of you, look for the vegetation moving like something is squeezing between the blades of grass. Chances are if you’re out during the day then they are going to run away from you. And man can rails run if they want to.

4. Rails are one of those groups of birds that are very poorly represented on ebird.

So if you see rails, EBIRD THEM! Oh please ebird them. See this map of Yellow Rails, thats all the sitings for the entire year. And 5 of them are mine. It really helps graduate students like myself relate our data to larger trends at the region and flyway level if we have more data to work with.

5. The phrase ‘skinny as a rail’ has nothing to do with trains.

Rails have compressed laterally which makes them skinny long awkward birds (and oh so endearing) which lets them move through the vegetation all sneaky like.

6. Rails get eaten by lots of things

Like frogs, seriously, it’s been documented. In this case (https://sora.unm.edu/node/15635) its a baby Virginia Rail being eaten by a Green Frog, but I’ve heard this from several wetland managers.

7. Rails have really sharp toenails

Nothing like the talons on raptors of course, but for such an awkward looking bird that is mostly legs once you have it in the hand they know how to use their little toenails to inflict pain on any well meaning researcher.

Written on October 25, 2013