Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Virginia rail.
This secretive bird hides its beautiful colors in the dense, tangled vegetation of freshwater marshes. Adult birds are robin-sized, with a rusty colored breast, black and white barring on the sides, gray cheeks and a long, reddish, down-curved bill. Holding their short tails up gives them a chicken-like appearance. Juvenile birds are more brown and darker.
Special adaptations including slim body design, flexible vertebrae, durable feather tips, and long legs and toes allow this rail to weave its way into nearly impenetrable areas. Virginia rails need shallow water with a muddy bottom for feeding. They use their long bills to probe in the mud for a wide variety of aquatic insects and will snag a small fish or frog that comes in range. Most active at dawn and dusk, they will come out into the open to feed as long as there is cover to duck into.
These wetland birds will occasionally swim or take short flights, but prefer to walk or run in abrupt movements on their strong legs. Only in migration to their winter homes in the southern U.S., northern Mexico and Guatemala do they take long flights.
Virginia rails breed and raise young in the shallow pond near the Ross Aragon Community Center. They have also been spotted in the warm water marsh on the Riverwalk in the company of the sora, another member of the rail family.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.

This story was posted on September 8, 2019.