Previous Page - Table of Contents - Next Page



Two species of Rail breed throughout New York and New England, in extensive swamps of grass or cat-tails. They are largely nocturnal in their habits, and, though very noisy, they are rarely seen. The Florida Gallinule is a rare summer resident of southern New York and New England in the reed-grown margins of shallow ponds; it is diurnal, and either walks or swims. The Coot is a migrant, chiefly in the autumn; its general appearance is that of a duck. For a full account of the notes of the two Rails, see Mr. Brewster's “ Voices of a New England Marsh,” “BirdLore," vol. iv. p. 43.

AMERICAN COOT. Fulica americana
15.00 in.

Ad.— Head and neck blackish; body, wings, and tail slate-gray, paler below; wing when spread shows a little white; bill whitish, tipped with brown. Im.— Similar, but much whiter below. Bill dull flesh-color.

The name Coot is applied at the sea-shore to the Scoters, a genus of sea-ducks, but the bird known as Coot on small inland waters, though in general resembling a duck, is a relative of the rails and gallinules, with lobed and not webbed feet. It is a migrant through New York and New England, rare in New England in April, but fairly common from late September to November. In the Hudson Valley it is said to be common from the end of April to the middle of May. It frequents the swampy borders of lakes or sluggish streams, where it seeks the shelter of bushes and reeds. When several Coot are together, they often play on the water, and frequently run along the surface, making a loud splattering noise. A bird often stands up full length out of the water, shows its ungainly förm, and then sinks forward into the water. In feeding, a Coot dives readily, and pulls up the aquatic plants from the shallow bottom. It swims freely but generally with a backward and forward motion of the head, which distinguishes it from a duck. Langille, who studied the Coot on its breeding ground, describes it as “decidedly a noisy bird, its coo-coo-coo-coo being heard both day and night.” It also has a squack similar to the quack of a duck. As a migrant, however, it is generally silent. The white bill is the best field-mark, and is particularly noticeable when the bird faces the observer.

13.50 in.

Ad.— Head and neck blackish; rest of body slate-gray, washed on the back with brown and on the belly with white; under tailcoverts white; bill and forehead bright red, the former tipped with greenish-yellow. Im.— Similar, but under parts suffused with white; bill and forehead brownish.

Nest, of cat-tail flags, floating on the water or on a bed of flags. Eggs, buff or buffy-brown, sparsely spotted with brown.

The Florida Gallinule is a rare summer resident of southern New England and the Hudson Valley, arriving in May, and staying till October. It inhabits the reed-bordered shores of lakes or ponds, either swimming like a duck or walking in the shallows like a rail. Its notes are very hen-like.

It may be known by its red, yellow-tipped bill and a plate of bright red on the front of its head.

Its tail is constantly cocked, and shows a patch of white beneath it. (See Brewster, "Auk,” vol. viii. pp. 1-7, for a full account of the habits and notes of the Florida Gallinule.)


Florida Gallinule

SORA; CAROLINA RAIL. Porzana carolina
8.50 in. Bill .80 in.

Ad.— Top of head brown, a blackish stripe through the centre; back, wings, and tail brown, streaked with black and a little white; sides of head, line over eye, and breast ash-gray; forehead, region about the base of the bill, middle of throat, and breast black; belly white; bill short, yellow. Im.— Upper parts dark brown, mixed on the back with black and a little white; throat white; breast washed with buff; sides dark, barred with white; belly white.

Nest, a platform of grass or sedge in a tuft of grass or sedge. Eggs, brownish-buff, sparsely spotted with brown and purplish-gray.

The Carolina Rail is a common summer resident of most of New York and New England, though rather rare in the vicinity of New York city. It arrives in April, and leaves in October. Though common in suitable localities, it is only found where there are extensive marshes, cat-tail swamps, or meadows which retain much water all through the summer. Here it may be constantly heard and occasionally seen, picking its way along the edge of the marsh or between the tussocks of sedge, or, when startled, flying a short distance with weak flight and dangling legs, and then dropping into the grass. It walks with a constant upright tilt of its short tail, thus exposing the buffy under tail-coverts.

The notes of the Carolina Rail, heard most commonly at the approach of dusk and all through the evening, and also at intervals through the day, are a long frog-like cry, resembling the syllable kur-wee', and a whinny. The birds utter also, when startled, a cry like the syllable kuk; a stone thrown into the cat-tails in late summer or fall is almost sure to provoke this cry. Its short yellow bill shows conspicuously against the black about its base, and distinguishes it from the Virginia Rail, which has a long dark bill.



VIRGINIA RAIL. Rallus virginianus
9.50 in. Bill 1.50 in.

Ad.— Top of head and back rich brown, streaked with black; sides of head ash-gray; line from bill to eye white, above a blackish stripe; part of the wings rich reddish-brown; under parts a warm brown; lower belly black, barred with white; bill long, slightly curved. Im.— Upper parts much as in adult; throat and line down the middle of the lower parts whitish; rest of under parts blackish.

Nest, a platform of grass or sedge in a tuft of grass or sedge. Eggs, pale buffy-white, spotted and speckled with reddish-brown.

The Virginia Rail is a summer resident of New York and New England, common in the southern and central portions of the region. It arrives in April, and stays till October; it winters sparingly from Cape Cod southward. It inhabits fresh water marshes and wet meadows, particularly where cat-tails abound, and is often associated with the Carolina Rail, many of whose habits it shares. When seen, the long bill and the rich, reddish-brown of its wings and underparts distinguish it from its relative. Its notes, too, are quite distinct. They consist of a low monotonous call, like the syllables cut-ta, cut'-ta, and a series of more startling notes, wak, wak, wak, each note lower than the preceding, like the grunting of little pigs. In summer, when the old bird is followed by the young, she utters, when alarmed, a note like the syllable kip.


Virginia Rail

Previous Page - Table of Contents - Next Page