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The spring is bird migration time – hence all the bird-related blogs. The peak is May with a bit of April and June thrown in. So I’ve been posting a good bit of bird stuff – some day, perhaps next week even, I will get back and finish the Falkland Islands posts and start in on more Australia and Africa. But for now there are a few relevant bird posts to finish; the always entertaining sparrows will be stunning I’m sure, the elegant array of terns might be more colorful or at least a bit more jazzy, and today will shine some light on the denizens of our wetlands, thick with emergent vegetation. These birds slither and skulk, They are noisy but but not songsters. Most people go an entire lifetime without seeing any of them.
Let’s take a look at the rails; king, clapper, Virginia, sora, and yellow (in descending size). They are shy and secretive as a rule but it may be that the vegetation they live in is not at all transparent. They can be just a few feet away from you and fully out of sight. The phrase “skinny as a rail” originated back when wildlife was an essential part of everyones daily life. People in the bush noticed that rails could squeeze between things by becoming narrowing in width. They became “skinny as a rail” to squeeze through their habitat.
They are all possible here in Massachusetts but the Yellow Rail (YERA) is very hard to find and identify though it is a regular passage bird. They mostly nest in Canada and winter in the wetlands (stopping in old rice fields along the way) of the Gulf Coast. The Virginia Rail (VIRA) is the most common of our rails and along with the Sora (SORA) is the most widespread. The larger rails are the Clapper and the King. This group is found worldwide and is one of the birds that often become flightless over time when they get to a predator-free island. But they are often wiped out quickly when humans, dogs, cats, weasels, stoats, and rats arrive on the island. There are still flightless rails on a few Islands and in New Zealand as well.