Much is unknown about this tiny, secretive rail, making it a great interest to curious birdwatchers.


During summer, Black Rails have red eyes on their slate-grey head, a small, straight bill, dark grey breast and upper belly, chestnut-brown upper nape and upper mantle, blackish upperparts flecked with white, a short tail, dark grey underparts, and greenish grey legs. They have a dark overall.

Black Rails are mouse-sized, with a length of 6 inches (15 centimeters) and a wingspan of 9 inches (23 centimeters). They weigh 1 1/16 ounces.


Black Rails have a patchy distribution. They occur disjointedly across the U.S, West Indies, Central America, and South America. It can be found among reeds in freshwater, salt, and brackish marshes or wet meadows.


Black Rails are reluctants fliers. When they do fly, they fly like ducks; continually flapping with fast wingbeats. On short flights, their legs dangle. On longer flights, their flight is fast and direct.

Black rails probe for food which consists of  aquatic invertebrates.

Black Rails are usually detected by their territorial call given by males during breeding season. It is a three-noted, nasal "kickee-doo" or "kic-kic-kerr." They also make low growls when agitated.

Breeding season for Black Rails is from March to July. Their nests are a small, deep cup of grass and sedges placed on the ground, with an overhanging canopy of woven plants. They have two broods with five to nine eggs in each. The eggs are creamy white with fine brown spots. Recently hatched chicks are covered in black down and can leave the nest in one day, fed by their parents. Black Rails are preyed on by herons. Their lifespan is unknown.


It is difficult to observe the populations of the Black Rail due to its secretive nature, but some populations seem to be declining. This bird is considered endangered in some states and threatened in others.



  • Black Rails are the smallest rails in North America.
  • Black Rails prefer shallower water than other rails of North America.
  • Its scientific name (jamaicensis) is named after the island Jamaica.
  • The name for Black Rail in Spanish is Polluela Negruzca.
  • The name for Black Rail in French is Râle noir.
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