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

Police respond to alleged bear-spray threats

A number of Comox dog owners have reported their off-leash dogs being threatened with bear spray

Brent Flahr new Philadelphia Flyers assistant GM

Courtenay resident reunited with Chuck Fletcher in Philadelphia

Comox Valley Food Bank – 35 years of feeding the Valley

The Comox Valley Food Bank turns 35 years old on Dec. 19,… Continue reading

Kingfisher Resort unveils newly renovated Ocean Courtyard Wing

The $2 million renovation was completed at the end of November

New Cumberland fire engine long overdue, says fire chief

The prospect of a new fire hall delayed the order as existing engine bays were too small

Man caught on camera allegedly trying to defraud ICBC

Auto-insurer warns B.C. drivers to record info after crashes

Courtenay man named Flyers assistant GM

Brent Flahr spent nine-plus years in Minnesota

Teenager Alphonso Davies wins Canadian Men’s Soccer Player for the Year Award

Derek Cornelius and Chilliwack native, Jordyn Huitema were named Canadian Youth International Players of the Year

B.C. teen MMA fighter shows heart

Young Unity MMA competitors bring home Ws

2,000 Canadians died of an overdose in first 6 months of the year

New data from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows the crisis is not subsiding

Another B.C. city votes to ban single-use plastic bags

First six months of proposed ban would focus on education, not enforcement

UK Prime Minister Theresa May wins party no-confidence vote, but troubles remain

May won the vote of 317 Conservative legislators with a 200-117 tally

B.C. trustee’s anti-LGBTQ comments got him barred from schools

Barry Neufeld calls vote to leave him off liaison list ‘workplace discrimination’

Most Read