Eastern Black Rail
The Black Rail is an elusive, marsh bird that lives in fresh, brackish and salty wetlands of the United States. The Eastern Black Rail subspecies is the smallest rail in North America and has been listed as federally endangered under the ESA, due to potential habitat degradation as a result of climate change and land use modifications. Dryer soil conditions or flooding could potentially reduce the quality and quantity of wetland habitat available for this species. Several coastal counties in the Guadalupe River HCP contain potential habitat for Black Rail.
Eastern Black Rail
Laterallus jamaicensis jamaicensis
USFWS Endangered Species Act Status:
TPWD Species Conservation Status:
Aransas, Calhoun, and Refugio counties
The Black Rail is a small (35 gram) black to gray bird with a small black bill, red eyes and brown-gray to brown-black legs and toes. The plumage on the throat is gray, the upper back is chestnut brown and the lower back, tail and wings are dark gray to black with small white spots. The Females are not as darkly colored as males and have lighter colored throats (Eddleman . 1994).
Black Rail lifespans are unknown, but are at least two-and-a-half years long. Black rails build nests out of wetland grasses and plants in dense clumps of vegetation on moist soil in late spring through August (Legare and Eddleman 2001). Texas is home to two populations of Black rail. A migratory population leaves to breed in Kansas and Colorado in the spring and returns to Texas in the fall. A non-migratory population also lives in Texas year-round (Eddleman 1994).
Habitat and Diet:
Black Rails live in a variety of salty, brackish, or semi-salty, and freshwater marsh habitats. The rails occupy elevated portions of densely vegetated wetlands that are submerged in shallow waters or have moist soils. The birds travel through vegetation corridors on the ground, rather than flying and require a thick canopy of grasses, sedges, and rushes. On the Texas Gulf coast, Black Rails are often found in areas with Gulf Cordgrass, Salt Meadow Cordgrass and Eastern Baccharis (Tolliver 2017). The species of plants in habitat occupied by Black Rail is not believed to be important, so long as the vegetation provides dense canopy over, and dense stem groupings (Legare and Eddleman 2001). The birds primarily eat seeds, insects and other invertebrates found in wetlands (Eddleman 1994).
Eddleman, W. R., Flores, R. E., & Legare, M. (1994). Black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis), version 1.0. Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birds of the World: https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.blkrai.01
Legare, M. L., & Eddleman, W. R. (2001). Home range size, nest-site selection and nesting success of black rails in Florida. Journal of Field Ornithology, 72, 170-177.
Tolliver, J. (2017). Eastern black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis jamaicensis) occupancy and abundance estimates along the Texas coast with implications for survey protocols. Master’s thesis. San Marcos: Texas State University.
Tolliver, J. D., Green, M. C., Weckerly, F., & Moore, A. A. (2017). Occupancy, distribution, and abundance of black rails (Laterallus jamaicensis) along the Texas Gulf Coast. San Marcos: Texas State University.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service. (2018). Species Status Assessment Report for the Eastern Black Rail (Laterallus jaimaicensis jamaicensis) Version 1.2. Atlanta, Georgia.