other similar Rails, the Virginia Rail is a rather common breeding bird in
South Dakota. Like other Rails, however, they are more often heard
than seen. They prefer to stay hidden in marsh vegetation, and are
typically found in cattail marshes in South Dakota. When disturbed, they
will almost often move away on foot, and with their long toes and compressed
bodies, they are able to maneuver very well in the thick vegetation. While
typically not flying once they reach their summer breeding grounds, they are
actually relatively strong fliers, and are very long-distance migrants. In South
Dakota, when Virginia Rails are found, typically you also will be able to find Sora.
Habitat: Uses a variety of shallow fresh- and
brackish-water habitats, provided dense cover is available. They will
also use saltwater marshes during the winter. During migration, they
have the odd tendency to occasionally show up in almost any habitat.
Diet: Eats a great many aquatic insects and insect
larvae. Also eats mollusks and crustaceans, earthworms, small fish,
and seeds of aquatic plants.
Behavior: Typically forages by moving through
wetland vegetation, plucking insects and other food items from the ground or
foliage. They will also often probe in mud or shallow water for food.
Nesting: June through early August
Migration: Summers throughout most of the western
U.S., the northern half of the eastern U.S., and southern Canada.
Winters along the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf Coasts, as wells as locally in
the southwestern U.S., Mexico, and Central America.
Migration - Special Note: Birders
in the Black Hills area have recently made a very interesting discovery.
Starting in the winter of 2003/2004, they found Virginia Rails in at least 3 different locations north of
the Black Hills, and now in many subsequent
winters as well. Note that most of the literature shows them wintering
near the U.S. coasts, or in the extreme SW or SE part of the U.S., but
nowhere near South Dakota. It's a potentially important finding, and
certainly an interesting one.
Conservation Status: While still common in many areas, numbers
have declined as habitat has been destroyed.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Virginia Rail
eNature.com: Virginia Rail
Photo Information: July 4th, 2006 -- Near Tea in
Lincoln County -- Terry Sohl
Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or
text links below for additional, higher-resolution Virginia Rail photos.