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Overview

Comprehensive Description

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)

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Distribution

Range Description

Laterallus jamaicensis is widespread, but very local, in fresh and saline marshes, wet meadows and savanna in North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. The nominate race occurs on the east coast of USA, with sporadic records inland to Colorado and Minnesota (but no confirmed nesting since 1932). It is very local in north-east Mexico, Belize, Guatemala (only in 1903), Costa Rica, Panama (only in 1963), with an unconfirmed report from Honduras. It is locally rare in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but mainly a winter visitor on Jamaica and Cuba. It was probably extirpated as a breeder from Puerto Rico (to USA) by introduced mongooses, and is now extremely rare in winter. It is recorded as a non-breeder in the Virgin Islands (to USA). There is one recent record from north Brazil. The race coturniculus is very local in south-west USA, irregularly to north-west Mexico (one recent record). The race murivagans occurs at few coastal marshes in central Peru. The race salinasi is rare and local in south Peru to central Chile and adjacent parts of west-central Argentina. It may occur (doubtful race pygmaeus) in the Colombian East Andes. In USA, most populations declined drastically in the 20th century, and the breeding range seriously contracted.

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Range is large, but distribution is highly localized. Breeding range includes California (San Francisco Bay area, Imperial Valley, San Luis Obispo County, formerly San Diego County); lower Colorado River valley, southeastern California and southwestern Arizona; Kansas (locally); northern and central Illinois, and southwestern Ohio; Atlantic coast from New York south to southern Florida; Gulf coast in eastern Texas and western Florida; Belize and Panama; and western Peru, Chile, and western Argentina (AOU 1998). This species has been recorded in summer (and possibly breeding) in Missouri, northwestern Indiana, extreme northern Baja California, Veracruz, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and (at least formerly) Puerto Rico (AOU 1998). There are a few records in Canada but no confirmed breeding. One recent record from northern Brazil (BirdLife International).

Nonbreeding range includes the California coast, southeastern California, Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, Atlantic coast north to North Carolina, and breeding range in Belize and South America (AOU 1998).

The species is regarded as casual or accidental in several additional areas (AOU 1998).

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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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)

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Physical Description

Morphology

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).

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Size

Length: 15 cm

Weight: 32 grams

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Diagnostic Description

Young resemble the young of other rails, all of which have black downy plumage, but differs in having narrow white barring on the sides (and adults do not have downy surface plumage).

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It inhabits fresh and saline marshes, wet meadows and savanna. It occupies marshes with shallower water than other rallids and requires some tall vegetation to escape into. Feeds on terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates.


Systems
  • Freshwater
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Comments: BREEDING: Salt, brackish, and freshwater marshes, pond borders, wet meadows, and grassy "swamps." Cover of vegetation peripheral to marsh may possibly be important in reducing predation on rails flushed from marsh by high tide (Evens and Page 1986). Secretive, but may emerge from cover in early morning. Nests in or along edge of marsh, in area with saturated or shallowly flooded soils and dense vegetation, usually in site hidden in marsh grass or at base of Salicornia; on damp ground, on mat of previous year's dead grasses (Terres 1980), or over very shallow water. High tides may destroy nests (see Evens and Page 1986).

In northeastern North America, breed primarily in salt and brackish marshes (Davidson 1992). Before the 1950s, most nests in the Northeast were found in saltmarshes behind coastal barrier islands (Davidson 1992). However, wet meadows and freshwater areas of narrow-leaved cattail (TYPHA ANGUSTIFOLIA) and river bulrush (SCIRPUS FLUVIATILIS) have also been documented (Griscom 1923, Proctor 1981, Armistead 1990). In salt or brackish marshes, home ranges generally include dense stands of saltmeadow cordgrass (SPARTINA PATENS) mixed with saltwater cordgrass (S. ALTERNIFLORA), big cordgrass (S. CYNOSUROIDES), marsh spikegrass (DISTICHLIS SPICATA), black needlerush (JUNCUS ROEMERIANUS), black rush (J. GERARDI), or Olney's threesquare (SCIRPUS OLNEYI) (H. Wierenga, pers. comm., Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990). Also occur in the dryer, upland edges of these marshes where saltmeadow cordgrass mixes with marsh elder (IVA FRUTESCENS) and groundsel tree (BACCHARIS HALIMIFOLIA) in the saltbush community and with common reed (PHRAGMITES AUSTRALIS) in disturbed areas (Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990).

Research in wetlands along the lower Colorado River has revealed that water depth is an important and perhaps key habitat component. Black rails there are found typically where the water depth is less than two to four centimeters (R. Flores, pers. comm.). Other significant habitat factors may include vegetation density, distance to open water, and water regime stability (R. Flores, pers. comm.). Nesting takes place in the highest sections of the marsh, which have mesic to hydric soils and are flooded by only the highest tides (Todd 1977, Andrle and Carroll 1988). The area around the nest also typically includes lower wet areas, such as shallow pools and potholes (Andrle and Carroll 1988; W. Burt, W. R. Eddleman and H. Wierenga, pers. comms.).

NON-BREEDING: probably similar to breeding habitat, at least in eastern North America (Eddleman et al. 1994). Sites occupied in winter in San Francisco Bay are lower, smaller, more linear and more fragmented than breeding habitat (Eddleman et al. 1994).

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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).

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Breeding populations in inland and northern Atlantic coastal areas migrate southward for winter; arrive in breeding areas in April-May. May be resident or make local migrations in California and southeastern U.S. Most black rails in the Northeast are probably migratory. Some of the earliest reported arrival dates are 10 April in New Jersey, 12 April in Maryland, and 19 April in New York (Bull 1964, Armistead 1990, Bull 1985). Southward migration is thought to occur from late September to mid-October (Bailey 1913, Todd 1977). Some of the latest fall records are 7 November in Maryland, 29 October in New York, and 1 November in New Jersey (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.; Bull 1985, 1964; respectively).

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Reported food items include insects, isopods, and seeds of aquatic plants (Terres 1980). Probes substrate or picks items from surface. The principal diet consists of aquatic invertebrates, especially insects, and the seeds of aquatic vegetation (Ehrlich et al. 1988). The stomach contents of one black rail, collected at Elliott Island, Maryland in June of 1958, were fragments of larval and adult aquatic beetles (Coleoptera). Three genera of the family Hydrophilidae were represented: Enochrus, Hydrochara, and TROPSITERNUS. Also identified was a curculionid, or weevil, from the genus Calendra (Spangler 1959).

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Associations

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).

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 21 - 300

Comments: Occurrences have not been delineated using standardized criteria, but this species appears to be represented by a fairly large number of small occurrences (subpopulations) and locations (as defined by IUCN).

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Global Abundance

100,000 - 1,000,000 individuals

Comments: Population includes 25,000-100,000 individuals of subspecies jamaicensis (unpublished report 'Waterbird Conservation for the Americas 2001' cited in Wetlands International 2002), plus fewer than 10,000 individuals of subspecies coturniculus (Eddleman et al. 1994). Source: BirdLife International, 2013, species factsheet: for Laterallus jamaicensis..

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General Ecology

Telemetry studies conducted on a resident population on the lower Colorado River showed an average nesting home range size of 0.43 ha with a significant core area of 0.10 ha (R. Flores, pers. comm.). In this study, black rails nested in fringe marsh lining a lake. Home ranges in this habitat may be significantly different in size and shape than in extensive saltmeadow cordgrass-dominated marshes in the Northeast. Although not determined through telemetry studies, territory size in the Elliott Island marshes of Dorchester County, Maryland is estimated to be three to four ha (J. S. Weske, pers. comm.).

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Ecology

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).

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Predators

Black Rails may experience significant predation by avian predators, including Northern Harriers, Great Egrets, and Great Blue Herons (Evens and Page 1986).

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Comments: Active and vocal on moonlit nights (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

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Reproduction

The peak calling period in the Elliott Island marshes of Maryland is thought to occur in early to mid-May (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.), while peak calling in southern New Jersey marshes may occur from late April to mid-May (Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990). The peak nesting period is from June to mid-July (Bull 1964, Kerlinger and Sutton 1989). The earliest egg date in the Northeast is a 16 May record of a nest with six eggs in Virginia (Bailey 1927). Other egg dates range from 20 May to 8 August in Maryland (Stewart and Robbins 1958, W. Burt, pers. comm.) and from 30 May to 15 August in New Jersey (Bent 1926, Kerlinger and Sutton 1989). In Maryland, birds have been found on territory until late September (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.).

Clutch size ranges from six to ten (Harrison 1975). Incubation lasts for approximately 16-20 days and is performed by both sexes (Ehrlich et al. 1988). The clutch hatches synchronously, and the chicks leave the nest within approximately 24 hours (W. Burt, pers. comm.; Todd 1977). After hatching, the black downy young are precocial, but continue to be fed by the parents for an undetermined length of time (Ehrlich et al. 1988).

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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)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Laterallus jamaicensis

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There is 1 barcode sequence available from BOLD and GenBank.   Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.  Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.

ACTCTACTTAATCTTCGGAGCATGAGCCGGCATAATTGGTACTGCCCTAAGCCTACTTATCCGAGCAGAACTTGGACAACCTGGCAGCCTCTTAGGTGATGACCAAATCTACAATGTGATCGTCACCGCTCATGCTTTCGTGATAATCTTTTTTATAGTAATACCTATTATAATTGGAGGCTTTGGCAACTGATTAGTACCACTTATAATTGGAGCCCCAGACATAGCATTCCCCCGAATAAATAACATAAGCTTCTGACTCCTTCCTCCCTCTTTCCTGCTACTACTAGCTTCATCAACAGTAGAAGCAGGAGCAGGAACAGGCTGAACCGTCTACCCTCCACTTGCCGGCAACCTAGCCCACGCAGGAGCCTCAGTAGACCTAGCCATCTTCTCCCTGCACTTAGCAGGAGTTTCATCCATCCTGGGCGCCATCAATTTTATTACAACTGCCATTAACATAAAACCACCCGCACTATCCCAATACCAAACCCCCCTATTTGTATGGTCCGTCCTCATCACCGCCGTCCTACTACTACTATCCCTACCTGTACTTGCCGCTGGCATCACCATGCTACTAACCGACCGAAATCTAAACACCACATTCTTCGACCCAGCTGGTGGAGGAGACCCAATTCTATACCAACACCTTNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Laterallus jamaicensis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
NT
Near Threatened

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This poorly known species is believed to be declining at a moderately rapid rate and consequently it is classified as Near Threatened (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G3 - Vulnerable

Reasons: Breeding range extends from North America to South America, but populations apparently are highly localized and relatively small, and trend is downward. Secretive habits and lack of information from most of range make status difficult to determine.

Other Considerations: BirdLife International/IUCN assessed this species as Near Threatened in 2012.

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N3B,N3N : N3B: Vulnerable - Breeding, N3N: Vulnerable - Nonbreeding

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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.

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Population

Population
25,000-100,000 jamaicensis (unpublished report 'Waterbird Conservation for the Americas 2001' cited in Wetlands International 2002); plus <10,000 coturniculus (Eddleman et al. 1994).


Population Trend
Decreasing
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Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 10-30%

Comments: Trend over the past 10 years or three generations is not well documented, but distribution and abundance probably have continued to decline at a "moderately rapid rate" (BirdLife International, 2013, species factsheet: for Laterallus jamaicensis).

Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 30-80%

Comments: This species has experienced an ongoing long-term decline in distribution and abundance (Eddleman et al. 1988, Hands et al. 1989, Kerlinger and Sutton 1989, Armistead 1990, Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990, Evens et al. 1991, Davidson 1992). The degree of decline is not precisely known; based on available records of black rails and trends in rail habitat, the decline has been quite large. In many areas where this species has been found, it is not consistently present from year to year.

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Threats

Major Threats
Continued massive degradation of wetlands habitats give cause for concern. In parts of its range it is threatened by pollution, drought, wildfires, groundwater removal, changing water levels, grazing and agricultural expansion (Eddleman et al. 1994, Taylor and van Perlo 1998).

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Degree of Threat: B : Moderately threatened throughout its range, communities provide natural resources that when exploited alter the composition and structure of the community over the long-term, but are apparently recoverable

Comments: Loss and degradation of wetland habitat due to drainage, dredging, filling, impounding, mining, pollutant discharge, and invasion by non-native plant species are considered the greatest threat; additional threats in various parts of the range include drought; wildfires; groundwater removal; sea level rise associated with climate change; vegetation removal and disturbance caused by livestock grazing; predation by cats, rats, and artifically large populations of native predators; agricultural expansion; and contaminants that may directly or indirectly reduce rail survival and reproductive success (Todd 1977, Tiner 1984, Kerlinger and Sutton 1989, Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990, Eddleman et al. 1994, Taylor and van Perlo 1998).

HABITAT LOSS: According to Tiner (1984), only 46% of the original 87 million ha of wetlands in the United States remained by the mid-1970s. Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s, 7,300 ha of estuarine and 178,000 ha of palustrine wetlands were lost each year. Most of this national wetland loss was attributed to agricultural development. The coastal marshlands of several Northeastern states diminished by hundreds to thousands of hectares each year in the 1970s (Tiner 1984). New Jersey and New York suffered significant wetland loss from dredge and residential development in coastal areas (Tiner 1984, Kerlinger and Sutton 1989). Connecticut also lost approximately half of its original wetland acreage (Tiner 1984). The relatively shallow wetlands used by black rails are particularly vulnerable to loss and degradation.

In many areas, common reed (Phragmites) is a weedy, invasive species which threatens the integrity of native wetland communities. Disturbed and stressed wetlands are more susceptible to Phragmites invasion than are undisturbed wetlands. The effect of Phragmites invasion and dominance on breeding habitat, the mortality rate, and reproductive success is unstudied, yet some believe it to be negative (H. Wierenga and P. Kerlinger, pers. comms.; Hess et al., in press). Marsh burning may also indirectly contribute to habitat loss by removing dead vegetation used for nesting (Pough 1951). Some saltmarshes in Maryland are burned annually, typically in late winter (S. Dawson, pers. comm.). The exact effects of marsh burning on reproductive success and habitat quality is unknown and subject to vigorous debate (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.). Tiner (1984) also noted the detrimental effects of "eat-outs" by geese, muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), and nutria (Myocastor coypus). Nutria have been included as one of the probable causes for the loss of over 5,000 acres (2,024 ha) of marsh at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland (Jayne 1990).

PREDATION: Predation by various species, especially during extreme high tides when black rails are forced from their dense cover, was well documented in California by Evens and Page (1986). The most common predators included great egrets (Ardea alba), great blue herons (Ardea herodias), and northern harriers (Circus cyaneus). Other predators include great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), short-eared owls (Asio flammeus), ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis), domestic cats, and possibly loggerhead shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus) (Orr 1947, Weske 1969, Evens and Page 1986). Although undocumented, predation by other species such as foxes, snakes, snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina), feral dogs, and raccoons (Procyon lotor) was likely. In most areas of the black rail's global range, the effects of non-native predators (cats, dogs, rats, foxes) and artificially large populations of food-augmented native predators (e.g., raccoons) are of much greater concern than incidental predation by most native predators.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Black rails are vulnerable to habitat loss/degradation, increased mortality, and reduced reproductive success caused by rising sea level and increased incidence of severe weather events associated with climate change. Storm tides and abnormally high water levels can reduce reproduction by flooding nesting areas (Bailey 1927, Todd 1977). Although undocumented, severe weather may also decrease reproductive success by reducing the invertebrate prey base during extreme drought or flooding conditions. Rising sea level may permanently eliminate habitat in areas where development adjacent to coastal wetlands prevents the wetland habitat from shifting to a higher elevation.

CONTAMINANTS: Habitat contamination by PCBs, heavy metals, or pesticides may lead to increased rail mortality and reduced reproductive success. Ingestion of lead shot by soras (Porzana carolina), a close relative of the black rail, has been documented in Maryland, and lead residues at levels lethal to waterfowl were discovered in the tissues of some of these birds (Stendell et al. 1980). Although not yet substantiated, black rails may also be contaminated by pesticides that are applied to saltmarshes or leached into wetlands from nearby agricultural fields.

OTHER HUMAN-ASSOCIATED MORTALITY: Collisions with human-made structures, such as lighthouses, towers, buildings, and wires, are a well-documented mortality source (Emerson 1904, Browne and Post 1972, Todd 1977, Hands et al. 1989). Humans have also directly increased mortality levels through various other means, including hunting (Bailey 1913; L. Bevier and H. Wierenga, pers. comms.), automobile strikes (Orr 1947), trampling by birdwatchers (Evens and Page 1986), decapitation by mowers (Clark 1884), and possibly trapping (Eddleman et al. 1988).

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
It occurs in a number of protected areas but no specific conservation actions are known.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conserve wetland habitats within its range. Manage retreat at coastal sites so they continue to support the species in the face of sea level rise and increased storm frequency. Protect threatened sub-populations. Develop and introduce methods for monitoring population changes over time.

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Global Protection: Unknown whether any occurrences are appropriately protected and managed

Comments: This species occurs in some protected areas, but management of those areas is not necessarily favorable to black rails.

Needs: Maintain suitable wetland habitats. Protect nesting areas. Eddleman et al. (1988) made the following protection recommendations for North American raillids: enforce the 1985 Farm Act to protect wetlands from agricultural damage; accelerate U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) acquisition of wetlands with high elevational diversity and high percentage of emergent vegetation; resume congressional funding of the Accelerated Research Program for Migratory and Upland Game Birds to fund research on habitat management; institute a USFWS hunting stamp for hunting rails and other migratory game birds other than waterfowl (this would facilitate contacting the harvesting public for data and provide funds for habitat protection); review status of the black rail; integrate the management of national wildlife refuges to provide habitat for waterfowl, rails and other waterbirds.

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Restoration Potential: Black rails in the Northeast have been rarely studied. Very little quantitative data exists on the basic biologic or population parameters, and the factors influencing population change and reproductive success are poorly known. Without this information, it is difficult to assess the potential for restoration to wetlands from which they are presumed extirpated or greatly reduced. In New Jersey and Maryland, may no longer breed in certain wetlands that have been altered or degraded because of human activities (Kerlinger and Wiedner 1990; H. Wierenga, pers. comm.). Restoration of viable populations to these areas may be dependent upon restoring natural water regimes and vegetation compositions (Davidson 1992).

Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: The minimum habitat size required to sustain a breeding pair is undocumented and may be larger than home range or territory size alone. For example, many species of passerines require forests much larger than their territory size to successfully reproduce (Robbins 1979). This has been rarely studied in marsh birds.

An important element in designing a preserve would be to include enough area to protect habitat from alteration, especially from changes in water regimes or vegetation composition. In an ideal situation, the primary ecological boundary (the smallest habitat delimiter needed to ensure a sustainable population) should include the entire marsh from which one or more black rails were located during the breeding season. This would be the most effective way to protect the area's hydrology, an important factor in determining wetland structure and composition.

A protection boundary smaller than the entire marsh could be considered if the wetland were too extensive to be included entirely in a preserve or if rails were utilizing only a small portion of a large wetland. In these situations, a minimum preserve boundary should at least include the entire territories of all individuals present. However, it is difficult to determine the exact boundaries of breeding territories from the locations of advertising adults.

Site fidelity should be another consideration when designing a preserve smaller than the entire marsh. Even though rails have been known to return to the same location over consecutive years (H. Wierenga, pers. comm.), their degree of loyalty to a particular site in a large marsh is undetermined. A preserve established to protect breeding must be large enough to allow for annual movement of territories within the preserve boundary. Thus, a larger preserve increases the chances of future breeding inside the boundary.

To provide adequate buffering against potential threats and adjacent activities, an outer, or secondary, ecological boundary should include larger areas of remaining marshland and nearby upland areas. Upland areas may provide necessary cover during extreme high tides and flooding conditions (Evens and Page 1986; W. R. Eddleman, pers. comm.) and may provide a buffer against land management activities near the marsh (Davidson 1992).

Management Requirements: See Davidson (1992) for a good summary of management issues in the northeastern U.S. and see the California Department of Fish and Game (1990) for listing of management needs in California.

Eddleman et al. (1988) provided the following information on managing waterfowl areas in a way that is compatible with the conservation of inland rails. Wetlands of the greatest importance to rallids (other than gallinules and coots) are shallower and have greater percentage cover by emergent vegetation than those typically managed for waterfowl. Dewatering in northern breeding areas should occur before April 15 to avoid disruption of rail nest initiation. Gradual dewatering (and presumably presence of topographic diversity) provides the maximum amount of favorable foraging area (edge between moist soil and marsh). Amount of nesting cover (emergent perennial vegetation) should be maximized. To provide rail habitat every year, different impoundments should be flooded in different years. Because livestock grazing can lead to loss of cover, trampling, and disturbance of nesting pairs, it should be eliminated or reduced to a very low level in breeding areas (Eddleman et al. 1988).

For autumn migration, shallow flooding should commence in late summer in middle latitudes (vs. late autumn or winter for waterfowl), and habitat should include various shallow water depths, robust cover, and short-stemmed seed-producing plants. Flooding too deeply and too early, and deep winter flooding, lead to loss of robust plant cover.

Management Research Needs: Few studies have been conducted in the Northeast, and very little is known about even the most basic biological requirements. A fairly comprehensive list of research needs has been compiled by Hands et al. (1989). Although the list was developed for the northcentral U.S., it also applies to the Northeast. TheseSome of the basic research needs include determining reproductive success and productivity; longevity; nestling, fledgling, and adult mortality rates and causes; diet; diseases and parasites; site and mate fidelity; home range size; relative abundances at wintering, migratory, and breeding locations ; detailed habitat requirements along migratory routes and at breeding and wintering areas; analysis of contaminant levels and their effects on mortality and reproduction; and inter-specific and intra-specific levels of competition levels.

Some of the most important research needs are those which would have direct implications for land management. As discussed previously, certain land-use practices, including ditching, impounding, dredging, and burning, are considered potential threats to black rail habitat. The effects of these practices on habitat quality and quantity should be studied, and the degree of threat both to the habitat and populations should be evaluated. Land management techniques designed to restore, maintain, and enhance habitat should be developed and implemented on state and federal lands (Davidson 1992).

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Risks

Stewardship Overview: Secretive inhabitants of salt and brackish marshes, wet meadows and the margins of freshwater wetlands. Short, dense vegetation and saturated or shallowly-flooded soils are characteristic of breeding areas. In the Northeast, the bird is most common in the tidal marshes of Maryland, Delaware, and southern New Jersey. The significant loss of tidal marshes to dredging and filling, and alterations due to impoundments and pollutants, have all led to severe restrictions in the amount of available habitat for black rails. Their usage of drier wetlands, which are more easily and readily developed, has also contributed significantly to their localized, and small numbers. Management programs must rely upon restoring natural water regimes and vegetational compositions on lands owned by state and federal agencies. Land-use practices such as ditching, impounding, dredging, and burning may be detrimental and should be studied in greater detail to determine optimal habitat management practices. Few data are available on population trends, although New Jersey and Maryland have recently begun monitoring using tape-recorded vocalizations to elicit responses (Davidson 1992).

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Wikipedia

Black Rail

The Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis) is a mouse-sized member of the Rallidae family of birds. It is found in scattered parts of North America and the Pacific region of South America, usually in coastal salt marshes but also in some freshwater marshes. It is extinct or threatened in many locations due to habitat loss. The largest populations in North America are in Florida and California.

Black Rails appear to be omnivorous, feeding primarily on small invertebrates but also on seeds of some marsh plants. They are preyed upon by many avian (including hawks, egrets, and herons) and mammalian (including foxes and cats) predators and rely on the cover of thick marsh vegetation for protection. They are territorial and call loudly and frequently during the mating season.

The Black Rail is rarely seen and prefers running in the cover of the dense marsh vegetation to flying. It will often make its presence known, however, with its distinctive ki-ki-krr call or an aggressive, presumably territorial, growl. The best opportunity to see a Black Rail is during an extremely high tide when the birds are forced out of the coastal marshes into nearby fields and brush for cover. These high tides are dangerous time for Black Rails as they are quite vulnerable to predation outside the marsh.

This bird has sometimes been considered conspecific with the Peruvian Junín Crake (L. tuerosi) and the Galapagos Crake (L. spilonotus).

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: The form in central Peru (tuerosi) has been considered a distinct species (Fjeldså 1983).

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