Sora Rail

We spent some effort trying to catch sight of the Sora.  We saw one around dusk one evening, but unfortunately it was too dark to photograph. Sora Rail|Oso Flaco Lake|Guadalupe, CA For several weeks we would get up early and head out to the lake at dawn.  We were rewarded for our patience early one morning when we finally saw a Sora scurry from one clump of reeds to another.  The Sora is an elusive bird to find since it is seldom seen during the day, making it hard to photograph with the available lighting.

Description

The Sora is a small rail commonly heard, but rarely seen in marshes with dense vegetation.  It is our most common rail and is about the size of a quail.  Breeding birds have a black face and throat with a short bright yellow, and a gray neck and breast. The bill is stout and chicken-like, and has a dark tip. Their upper parts are mottled brown and white; they have barred flanks and bellies.  The short tail is often cocked upward showing a creamy white underside. They have yellow legs and feet.  The feet have extremely long toes, with the middle toes being the longest.  The toes are topped with claws.

The female is similar to the male but the black on her face is duller and covers a smaller area. Her mantle is has more spots then the male and she is generally less colorful overall. Juveniles in the fall don’t have a black face or throat and they have buff colored breasts.

Range and Habitat

Found in fresh water marshes, salt marshes, and coastal estuaries, ponds, fields, creeks, brackish waters and rice fields. Soras are highly migratory. Their migration flight is low with rapid wing beats.  They migrate in groups of 5-100 birds   Soras are found only in the Americas.

Behavior

The Sora is semi-nocturnal and is seldom seen during the day.  It has an unusual call. The call rises and descends in tone and sounds like a whinny. Their flight is short and weak, and not very coordinated; they dangle their feet when they fly and drop suddenly into the reeds or water.  They eat mostly mollusks and plant material like seeds, rice and algae.  They also feed on insects, spiders, snails and small crustaceans. Dragonflies are a favorite dish. It sometimes can be seen feeding on mudflats close to the reeds.

They nod their heads as they swim and they are good climbers, able to climb to the tops of the reeds for seeds. Their long toes and light weight, allow them to walk and run easily over the algae, Lily pads, and downed reeds.  They walk with long steps, and run with step that can measure over a foot apart. They are shy and retiring birds, quick to run for cover and hide in the reeds. They might dive under the water when they perceive grave danger and hide under floating reeds, leaving only their bill above to breathe. They are excellent swimmer and divers.

Breeding and Nesting

The Sora breeds in Canada and the US before migrating to the southern US, the Caribbean and Central and South America.  Although hunted heavily every year, the Sora maintains its population by the large numbers of young it hatches.  The female lays 5-12 eggs arranged in two layers in the nest. The nest is made of grasses and reeds and placed in a boggy area. Reeds are sometimes woven over the nest to protect it from the sun. Incubation is by both parents for about 14 days.  The nest will contain young already hatched and those just hatched. The young Soras are able to leave the nest as soon as they hatch; they are covered with thick black down.

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