Idaho Rails

By Dave Hanks

In our never-ending search for knowledge (both being teachers), and being fascinated by the intricate relationships in nature; my wife and I took an ecology workshop sponsored by the University of Idaho. It was held at McCall. One of the first things one of the professors said, when introducing the course, was that we would have to write two nature poems --- for a biology class!! What did poetry have to do with science? Never would I do that! I would return home first! I had hardly ever written any letters, even short ones. Then as I thought about it a bit, words just started coming out, and I have been writing ever since.

When out observing with the class, and sitting quietly by a marsh, my wife and I saw our first Sora Rail. One of Carolyn’s poems was about that event. She ended her poem with –“Quiet I will have to be if ever a Sora I hope to see”. This is true of all rails. They are very shy, secretive, and usually stay hidden amongst the sedges.

American rails range from the King Rail (15”) – Clapper Rail (14”) – Virginia Rail (10”) – Sora (9”) – Yellow Rail (8”) to the Black Rail (6”). All rail chicks are downy and black, and are similar in size to the adult Black Rail. These birds inhabit dense, marshy, fresh water wetlands. They are adept at hiding in the grass, weeds, or reeds of their habitat because of body conformation that is composed laterally instead of vertically. Marshes suit these species that would rather swim than fly.

The two rails common to Southern Idaho are the Sora and Virginia Rails. The Sora has a mottled back, gray chest and face, black in front of its eyes, and yellow legs and beak. The Virginia is more reddish, with reddish-orange legs and beak. The Virginia’s call is harsher and more nasal than the Sora’s, which is a long, high squealing, whinny that descends and then accelerates.

When visiting a marsh in the morning, it is unusual to see one of these wading birds, but you can always hear them. Keep an eye on the edge of the vegetation, where one may appear and then rapidly run across any open spaces. The marshes of Picabo, Idaho are good places to look for these birds.

(Virginia Rail – an unusual sighting)