Virginia Rail

An Adult and chick, Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola

Virginia Rails are secretive chicken-like waterbirds that are fairly common but more often heard than seen. 

Adults are generally rusty brown with gray faces and red-orange downward-curved bills. Their backs and wings are heavily streaked with brown.

Adults are similar but females are smaller. Juveniles are darker.

  • Rallus limicola
  • Length: 7.9 – 10.6 in (20 – 27 cm)
  • Weight: 2.3 – 3.4 oz (65 – 95 g)
  • Wingspan: 12.6 – 15.0 in (32 – 38 cm)


Virginia Rails breed in southern Canada and the northern United States and migrate to the southern US. Those in the western US remain all year.

Habitat and Diet

You can find Virginia Rails in shallow freshwater and brackish marshes with tall stands of cattails and bulrushes. In winter, they may be found in coastal salt marshes.

Virginia Rails use their bills to probe the mud for food and mostly eat insects like beetles, flies, dragonflies, snails, and earthworms. During winter, they may supplement their diet with plants and seeds. 

Virginia Rail call:


Nests of Virginia Rails are built on floating or dense clumps of vegetation. They’re usually in dry areas over very shallow water. Both adults weave cattails, reeds, and grasses together to create a basket-type of nest. They also weave a canopy of plant vegetation over the nest.

The female lays four to thirteen eggs which take about three weeks to hatch. They continue to care for their young for about two to three weeks after they hatch. 

Fun Facts:

Virginia Rails are slim and have adapted strong forehead feathers that are suited to constant wear and tear from pushing through dense vegetation