Juvenile Virginia Rail

In addition to the adult Virginia rails (Rallus limicola) Leonard and I were able to observe, as discussed in yesterday’s post (“Virginia Rail” on 07-06-19), there were also several juveniles and immatures that would creep out of the dense vegetation to feed in the mud and shallow water in the marshy habitat between the North and South Barns at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA).

Virginia rail chicks are balls of black down when born. As the chicks mature and develop their adult plumage, they begin to resemble duller versions of their parents except the lower breast and belly are a buffy white color. The legs turn from brown to reddish and the iris goes from brown to reddish brown as the chicks develop.

Virginia rails breed primarily in fresh water marshes, although sometimes broods are raised in brackish or salt marshes. Both parents build a platform nest of cattails, grasses and living plants and form a canopy of living vegetation above the nest. The nests are constructed in dryer areas or in a clump of vegetation a few inches above very shallow water.

The female lays 4 to 13 pale buff eggs lightly spotted with brown and grey. Both parents incubate the eggs for 18 to 20 days. The downy black chicks leave the nest soon after hatching. Both parents feed and brood the chicks  until they are about 2 or 3 weeks old. After about 25 days when the Virginia rail chicks are grown and able to fly, the parents usually depart leaving their offspring behind.

We saw little black balls of fluff scurrying about, but I was not quick enough with my camera. Black Virginia rail chicks will be added to our photographic “quest” list. Leonard and I were happy to be able to simply observe these elusive and secretive birds.

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