THE RAIL'S ABILITY to compress its body laterally led to the expression 'thin as a rail.'

Virginia rail ‘elusive and secretive’

Even some of the most avid, patient birders have never recorded a sighting of this intriguing marsh bird...

Elusive and secretive, the Virginia rail the most common of the nine rail species found in North America.

Even some of the most avid, patient birders have never recorded a sighting of this intriguing marsh bird. On a recent visit to the George Reifel bird sanctuary in Delta, I kept my eyes peeled in hopes of spotting one, but no such luck.

This sanctuary in the Fraser River delta is a major stopover for the Pacific Flyway migration. A combination of saltwater marshes, dikes and freshwater wetlands; it is also the winter feeding grounds for many species of migratory birds. It is well worth a visit and a great place for avid birders and photographers.

Our local populations of rails are mainly migratory, preferring to walk through marshy vegetation when they are summer residents. Although they are weak fliers, rails have the highest ratio of leg muscles to flight muscles of any other bird, and are expert runners.

These birds have a number of special features that enable them to live in a very specific environment.

“Thin as a rail” is an expression derived from the way a rail can compress its body laterally using flexible vertebrae, allowing it to squeeze between closely knit vegetation. Specially adapted head feathers can withstand the wear and tear from pushing their way through sharp reeds and grasses.

They blend in perfectly with their marshy habitat. Long reddish-brown legs and stand on large wide feet that can propel them across the marshy vegetation with barely a ripple.

Rails are monogamous birds when it comes to a relationship. The male runs around the female with raised wings and a twitching tail stopping to bow in front of her; if she returns the bow he knows his advances have been accepted.

Dense freshwater marshes are preferred for nesting; nests are fashioned from reeds and grasses making a raised basket atop the aquatic vegetation. Fiercely protective of their nests and young, the pair will build decoy nests to draw predators away from the young.

In the past few weeks there have been sightings of rails around dusk, as they prefer to move when they are least visible; this was the time a rail unfortunately ended up on a driveway in the Puntledge River area, maybe mistaking the driveway for the water.

Virginia rails migrate south as far as Guatemala, a feat that always amazes me with so many hazards along the way.

These rails fly at night at a lower elevation than many other species and can be disorientated by low clouds and fog, this may have been the case with the driveway rail, as it had sustained a head injury and did not survive.

Water birds and ducks are very hard to rehabilitate due to their feeding habits and specialized habitat so where possible we try and return them as soon as they are strong enough, giving them the best chance of survival.

Keep an eye out for migrating birds. The last few storms are bound to have an impact on the migration. Remember, the Comox Valley is an extremely important stop over for many species as they refuel to continue their arduous trek south.

Please continue to be vigilant when driving on dark wet nights. Deer encounters are still a problem and will be more so when daylight savings time comes into effect.

To call for advice on wildlife issues or to report an injured bird or animal, call toll free at 1-800-304-9968, for more information please visit www.wingtips.org.

Sandy Fairfield is the educational co-ordinator for the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). The MARS column appears every second Thursday.

Just Posted

Y2K Spitfire comes home

Stocky Edwards guest of honour at banquet

Crown Isle acquires Longlands Golf Course

The Crown Isle Resort and Golf Community just got a little bit… Continue reading

Heliports certified at Comox Valley, Campbell River hospitals

Both sites should see heliports up and running by late summer

115 new wildfires burning across B.C. due to 19,000 lightning strikes

More fires expected to start today, says BC Wildfire Service officials

Three small wildfires burning west of Courtenay

The blazes are the result of a brief thunderstorm last night

B.C. BMX kid wows GoPro with homemade video

Eight-year-old Rex Johnson wins award for inventive video

‘Creep off’ reporting system aims to track street harassment in Metro Vancouver

Text-based hotline launches to collect public reports on where and when harassment occurs

10 feet from home: B.C. grassfire offers stark reminder how quickly blazes burn

Kamloops woman among first people in B.C. to be told to evacuate home this wildfire season

Happy ending for orphaned bear cubs

Two orphaned bear cubs were captured in Castlegar and sent for rehabilitation.

B.C. man (pick up truck, Lucky Beer poster, and all) revels in return to Esquimalt

Rear-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie assumed command of the Maritime Forces Pacific

Mounties raid “extensive” Vancouver Island pot grow operation

Execution of 3 search warrants has yielded 3 arrests and the seizure of 2,000 marijuana plants

Platform chosen for online B.C. cannabis sales

Ottawa-based company to create websites for when marijuana becomes legal in Canada on Oct. 17

UPDATE: Police say story of pretend cops ‘arresting’ woman in CRA scam fake

Vancouver police urge people not take calls from anyone saying they’re from the Canada Revenue Agency

Almost 2,400 young athletes set to compete at BC Summer Games

Full list of participants was released Friday for the Cowichan Valley event

Most Read