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Oregon Wildlife Species

Birds: Rails, coots and cranes

Bird Species of Oregon: In addition to native bird species, introduced species, accidentals and birds that are currently expanding their ranges have been included here. Only one photo is shown for each species—as plumages vary between males and females, between young and adults, between seasons, see All About Birds for precise bird identification.

Order Gruiformes
Rails, Soras, Coots - Family Rallidae

ODFW Rail, Coot and Crane images on Flickr

Yellow Rail
Yellow Rail adult
-Photo by Dominic Sherony, Wikipedia-

Yellow Rail Coturnicops noveboracensis

A small, secretive rail that is seen and heard far less than any other rail in Oregon. Males vocalize during the breeding season with a five-note tic-tic, tic-tic-tic repeated incessantly during hours of dark, and call infrequently during the day. Call sound much like two small rocks being tapped together.

Yellow rails are quite small and have a white patch on the trailing edge of the inner wing, more extensive than that on juvenile Soras. Males in the breeding season have a distinct yellow bill and are slightly larger but otherwise sexes are alike. Chicks are downy black and have a pink bill.

Hear the call of the Yellow Rail

Virginia Rail
Virginia Rail adult
-Photo by Robert Mutch-

Virginia Rail Rallus limicola

With its long, decurved bill, the black and cinnamon Virginia Rail probes the mud for much of its food. Its narrow body is specially designed for slipping through a densely vegetated marsh, so it rarely has to move away from cover. Known for its staccato kidik, kidik call, this rail also contributes grunts, clicks, churs, squeaks, skeeuws, and quack-like noises to the marsh chorus.

In Oregon, this is a rare to locally abundant breeder. In western Oregon it breeds in freshwater and brackish marshes. In eastern Oregon, large marshes in Klamath, Lake, and Harney counties host numerous breeders each year, as do smaller wetland patches. It is also found in small marshes scattered in the midst of wooded areas.

Hear the call of the Virginia Rail

Sora adult
-Photo by Kathy Munsel, ODFW-

Sora Porzana carolina

Smaller than a robin, this shy skulker is difficult to see, even though it is present during the nesting season in marshes throughout the state. The Sora is mostly brown with a black face and a stout yellow bill. Its chicks are small black balls of fluff with a bit of orange feathering under their chins.

In the breeding season, Soras use wet meadows, including sedge, rush, and hair grass types but also wet areas with emergent vegetation, particularly cattails and tulles. They eat invertebrates, seeds, plant leaves, and stems.

Hear the call of the Sora

American Coot
American Coot adult
-Photo by Kathy Munsel-

American Coot Fulica americana

Often mistaken for a duck, the American Coot is actually a member of the rail family. It is a smallish, slate-gray water bird with a white bill. At home swimming in ponds and marshes, it seems to propel itself through the water by rhythmically extending its neck.

During the nesting season it can be seen enthroned on a sizable nesting platform built from marsh vegetation. It has the largest Oregon breeding population of any waterfowl. Rafts of thousands of coots stage for migration in spring and fall on lakes throughout Oregon.

Hear the call of the American Coot

Cranes - Family Gruidae
Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane adult
-Photo by Greg Gillson-

Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis

The Sandhill Crane is Oregon's tallest bird. This large majestic crane has a guttural gurgling or bugling call, and is easily notice in flight by its profile, with long neck and head extending straight ahead and long legs trailing behind.

The Sandhill Crane is distinguished by its red crown and white cheek patches, contrasting with with a light gray body. Fledged young resemble adults, but have a feathered forehead, a lighter tawny plumage, and lack the red crown and white cheek patches during their first fall. Fledged young have a squeaky cheap call often heard in flight during fall and winter. Adults look alike, although males are larger than females.

The dancing behavior of cranes is usually associated with disturbance and agitation, and not courtship ritual as so often reported.

The Sandhill Crane breeds throughout southeast, south central, northeast and central Oregon in large emergent marsh-meadow wetlands, as well as scattered smaller meadows among the Blue Mountains. A few pair also nest in high montane meadows in the western Cascades. The largest breeding concentrations occur at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Sycan Marsh, The Silvies River Floodplain (near Burns), Chewaucan Marshes, Warner Valley, and Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. In fall, the Sandhill Cranes that stage on Sauvie Island are frequently heard as they migrate south over the Willamette Valley. Sandhill Cranes are found in an increasing winter population on Sauvie Island.

Hear the call of the Sandhill Crane

Glossary of terms | Sources: Atlas of Oregon Wildlife | The Oregon Bird Records Committee | Birds of Oregon

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