Scientific Name: Coturnicops noveboracensis
Taxonomy Group: Birds
Range: Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2009
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern
Image of Yellow Rail
The minute size, buffy plumage with black and white markings, very short tail, light eyebrow, and small bill of the Yellow Rail are reminiscent of a quail. It is one of the smallest rails in the world, weighing only 60 g (females slightly less), and measuring 15-19 cm in length. A white wing patch is visible in flight. As in all rails, the body is laterally compressed, and the toes are long, adapted for maneuvering through aquatic vegetation.
Distribution and Population
Except for a very small area in Mexico where a few birds may still breed, the Yellow Rail breeds exclusively in Canada and the northern U.S. Its breeding distribution appears to be quite local and disjunct. It winters in the U.S., near the east coast from North Carolina to eastern Texas. The Canadian breeding range includes the Mackenzie District of the Northwest Territories, eastern Alberta, central Saskatchewan, most of Manitoba and Ontario, the southern half of Quebec, all of New Brunswick, and northern Nova Scotia. There are thought to be roughly a few thousand pairs of Yellow Rails breeding in the Hudson/James Bay region, and another roughly 2000 pairs in the rest of Canada (1998 estimates). Habitat availability has declined and is still declining throughout its southern breeding range and relatively small wintering range. In certain parts of the Hudson/James Bay region, habitat may be declining as a result of habitat degradation by Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens).
Nesting Yellow Rails are typically found in marshes dominated by sedges, true grasses, and rushes, where there is little or no standing water (generally 0-12 cm water depth), and where the substrate remains saturated throughout the summer. They can be found in damp fields and meadows, on the floodplains of rivers and streams, in the herbaceous vegetation of bogs, and at the upper levels (drier margins) of estuarine and salt marshes. Nesting habitats usually have a dry mat of dead vegetation from previous growing seasons. A greater diversity of habitat types is used during migration and winter than during the breeding season. In winter, the rails are known to use coastal wetlands and rice fields.
Yellow Rails probably start breeding when they are a year old. Pair formation likely occurs on the breeding grounds. Males in the wild may breed successively with two or more females, as observed in captivity. Females have only one brood per season, but they may renest if the first clutch of eggs is not successful. The nest is a crude scrape in the vegetation, on the ground or just a few centimetres above it, and is typically covered with a concealing canopy of dead vegetation. The 7-10 eggs are laid a day apart. Once the clutch is complete, the female incubates the eggs until they hatch some 17-18 days later. Hatching is synchronous (all eggs hatch at about the same time), and within a few hours the semiprecocial young can stand. Hatching success is likely very high. Two days after hatching, the entire brood follows the hen away from the nest, at five days of age the young can feed themselves, and at 35 days of age they are capable of flying. Adults eat invertebrates and seeds; the diet of chicks is unknown.
The loss and degradation of wetlands due to agricultural and human development is the greatest threat to this species throughout its breeding range. On the wintering grounds, habitat loss has been so extensive that the wintering range may no longer be contiguous, and the rails are becoming largely restricted to a narrow band of coastline. Coastal marshes are threatened throughout the Gulf states.
Federal ProtectionMore information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
The Yellow Rail is protected by the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act. Under this Act, it is prohibited to kill, harm, or collect adults, young, and eggs.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
8 record(s) found.
- COSEWIC Status Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Assessments (2 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (1 record(s) found.)
- Management Plans (1 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (1 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
COSEWIC Annual Reports
COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 (2010)Under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. During the past year, COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings and reviewed the status of 79 wildlife species (species, subspecies, populations). During the meeting of November 2009, COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of the status of 28 wildlife species. COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of an additional 51 wildlife species (species, subspecies and populations) during their April 2010 meeting. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2009-2010 reporting period include the following: Extirpated: 6 Endangered: 39 Threatened: 16 Special Concern: 17 Data Deficient: 1 This report transmits to the Minister the status of 46 species newly classified as extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern, fulfilling COSEWIC’s obligations under SARA Section 24 and 25. A full detailed summary of the assessment for each species and the reason for the designation can be found in Appendix I of the attached report. Since its inception, COSEWIC has assessed 602 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 262 Endangered, 151 Threatened, 166 Special Concern and 23 Extirpated. In addition, 13 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct. Also, to date, 46 wildlife species have been identified by COSEWIC as Data Deficient and 166 wildlife species were assessed as Not at Risk. This year has been a particularly productive year for COSEWIC’s Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) Subcommittee. In April 2010 COSEWIC approved the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Process and Protocol Guidelines, providing clear and agreed principles for the gathering of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge to carry out COSEWIC functions as required under Section 15(2) of SARA (See Appendix III of the attached report). We are grateful for the rich and enthusiastic contribution made by community elders and experts in helping the ATK Subcommittee prepare the ATK protocols.
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