This secretive, nocturnal bird, though widespread, is hard to observe.


Yellow Rails have a small head, almost no neck, stubby, olive-green bill, a plump, short-tailed body, and short legs. The bills of males will turn yellow during breeding season. They have a dark stripe that runs from the cheek to bill, buff or yellow breast, a dark brown crown, and long, tan stripes on blackish background on their upper an underparts. When in flight, they display their distinctive wing patches on their inner wing feathers.

Yellow Rails are the second smallest rail in North America. They are 7 1/2 inches (18.5 centimeters) in length and weigh 1 3/4 ounces (50 grams). They have a wingspan of 11 inches (28 centimeters).


Yellow Rails prefer dense, damp, grassy habitats. They breed in brackish and freshwater marshes and wet sedge meadows in Canada and the north central U.S. There is an isolated breeding population in Oregon.

They winter primarily in coastal marshes along the eastern seaboard.


Yellow Rails tend to dart for cover rather than fly when disturbed. Sometimes they swim across open water. When they do fly, they fly like ducks; continually flapping with fast wingbeats. Their flights are low, weak, short, and direct with stiff wingbeats. Their pale legs dangle during flight.

Yellow Rails probe for their food, which consists of aquatic invertebrates.

Nesting season for Yellow Rails is from May to June. Their nests are a small cup of grasses and sedges placed on the ground or in a plant tuft above water, concealed by overhanging vegitation. They have one brood with 8-10 eggs in each. After hatching, the chicks are covered with black down and can leave the nest within one day. They are fed by their parents. The lifespan for Yellow Rails is unknown.

Yellow Rails have a metallic clicking in strict cadence, "tic-tic, tic-tic-tic," song. Other sounds they make are descending cackles, quiet croaking, and soft chuckling.


This secretive birds' population trends are hard to observe. They are listed as threatened, endangered, or vunerable in some states.



  • Their Latin name, noveboracensis, means "New Yorker."
  • They are also called Polluela Amarillenta (in Spanish) and Râle jaune (in French).
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