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CALIFORNIA BLACK RAIL } Laterallus jamaicensis coturniculus


RANGE: Southwestern United States and Mexico

STATUS: This bird is considered Critically Imperiled; it is listed as Threatened in California and Arizona.

THREATS: Habitat loss and degradation due to water and flood-control projects, land-use changes, agriculture, and livestock grazing

The tiny, elusive California black rail is a sparrow-sized bird with a small black bill, chestnut brown nape, and white speckles on its back. It lives and hides in dense vegetation in salt- and freshwater marshes and likes to stay close to the ground: often it runs under cover of the dense marsh vegetation instead of flying, since in flight it risks predation by hawks, egrets, and herons. It lives in marshlands in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento Valley, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, central California coast, Salton Sea, and along the lower Colorado River. Although rails make their presence known when mating season rolls around — calling loudly and frequently — they’re rarely seen except during extremely high tides, when they’re forced out of the protective cover of the marshes into nearby fields and brush for cover.

Photo © Mike Danzenbaker, www.avesphoto.com