Laterallus jamaicensis (Gmelin, 1789)
Black Rail (English), Polluela negra (Castilian), Râle noir (French)
The Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis) is a highly secretive, sparrow-sized marsh bird. It generally walks or runs through the marsh, rarely flying or emerging from cover. It is heard far more often than it is seen. It breeds along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and, very patchily, on the Pacific coast of the U.S. and in Central America and Western South America. (Kaufman 1996; Taylor 1996; AOU 1998)
Conservation and Management
The Black Rail has probably declined in most parts of its North American range, especially in the upper Midwest, mainly due to habitat loss (Kaufman 1996). Evens et al. (1991) reviewed the status of the Black Rail in western North America and concluded that it was experiencing a progressive decline resulting from the degradation and loss of its habitat.
The Black Rail is a very small rail that is easily distinguished from other Laterallus rails and other rails occurring in its range by its very dark plumage with white spotting and barring (although the young of most rails are black). The female has paler underparts than the male. (Taylor 1996).
The Black Rail is typically found in the shallow margins of salt marshes and, away from the coast, in freshwater marshes and wet meadows (Kaufman 1996; Taylor 1996; AOU 1998).
In a study of breeding Black Rails in Florida, Legare and Eddleman (2001) estimated the mean home range during nesting as 1.3 hectares for males (range 0.82 to 3.1; n = 9) and 0.62 hectares for females (range 0.51 to 0.86, n = 6). In a study in California, comparable home range was estimated to be 0.59 hectares, with males having larger home ranges and females smaller ones (Tsao et al. 2009).
The Black Rail is distributed along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and, very patchily, in California, Arizona, Kansas, Illinois, and Ohio; Belize, Panama, western Peru, Chile, and western Argentina. It has been recorded as present during the breeding season (and therefore possibly breeding) in Missouri, Indiana, Baja California, Veracruz, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and (at least historically) Puerto Rico. The winter range includes the coast of California north to Tomales Bay, and the Imperial and lower Colorado River valleys; the Gulf coast from southeastern Texas east to Florida; the Atlantic coast north to North Carolina (casually to Maryland); and the breeding range in Belize and South America. (AOU 1998)
Black Rails may experience significant predation by avian predators, including Northern Harriers, Great Egrets, and Great Blue Herons (Evens and Page 1986).
The Black Rail's nest site is usually slightly above the ground or shallow water in a clump of vegetation. Clutch size is typically 6 to 8 eggs (range 3 to 13). Eggs are white to pale buff and dotted with brown. Incubation period (by both sexes) is 17 to 20 days. The downy young leave the nest within a day of hatching. (Kaufman 1996)
The diet of the Black Rail consists mainly of small (less than 1 cm) aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, including snails, amphipods, isopods, spiders, ants, aphids grasshoppers, beetles, bugs, earwigs, and flies. Especially in winter, Black Rails may consume seeds as well (e.g., Typha cattails, Scirpus sedges). (Taylor 1996).
Laterallus jamaicensis coturniculus (Ridgway, 1874), Laterallus jamaicensis jamaicensis (Gmelin, 1789), Laterallus jamaicensis murivagans (Riley, 1916), Laterallus jamaicensis salinasi (Philippi, 1857), Laterallus jamaicensis tuerosi Fjeldsa, 1983