Bird Database

Virginia Rail

(Rallus limicola)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Wetland loss, Invasive species, Altered wetland hydrology

Conservation Actions

Ptotect and restore wetlands

Virginia Rail

(Rallus limicola)

Wetland birds, especially those that prefer dense and/or inaccessible cattail marshes, are among the most poorly known members of New Hampshire’s avifauna. The most common of these “secretive marsh birds” in the state is the Virginia Rail, which is still rarely seen despite being widely distributed across the state. In addition to cattail marshes, it will also use salt marsh and Marsh & Shrub Wetlands with a mix of shrubs and grasses. Larger wetlands are preferred, but rails regularly show up in some as small as an acre, and during migration may appear in places as incongruous as wet roadside ditches with tall grass.

No matter where they occur, Virginia Rails are heard more often than seen and possess an impressive repertoire. The most common call is a harsh series of grunting noises that descends in pitch. After one bird in a marsh makes this vocalization, others may follow in short order. Males and females also have what are called songs, both being sharper than the grunts. The male’s song is often rendered as “ka-dik ka-dik ka-dik,” while the female’s is a rapid “ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-kedew” that descends at the end. Virginia Rails also make a number of shorter grunting and squeaking noises that can indicate their presence in a given marsh.

Because rails are so secretive, there are not enough data to determine whether populations are increasing or decreasing. Available data on other marsh birds such as American Bittern and Pied-billed Grebe suggest decreases in New Hampshire, and since rails use the same habitats they might be suffering the same fate. Elsewhere in North America the data aren’t any better and show a mix of local increases and decreases where marshes have been studied in detail for longer periods of time. Given the lack of data, a key need for rails and other marshbirds in New Hampshire is better information on their distributions. You can help by visiting local marshes between mid-April and late June, listening for these species’ calls, and reporting your observations to eBird.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Virginia Rail
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count