Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Black rail
Laterallus jamaicensis

 

Taxonomy
Occurence in Illinois
Status
Habitat associations
Guilds
Food-habits
Environmental associations
Life history
Management practices
References


TAXONOMY

 

  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Gruiformes
  • Family: Rallidae
  • Genus: Laterallus
  • Species: Laterallus jamaicensis
  • Authority: Gmelin

Comments on taxonomy:
L.j. jamaicensis occurs in Illinois *07*. Other names: little black rail, black crake.

 


OCCURENCE IN ILLINOIS

Mid April-late May, mid Sept.-mid Oct.; rare migrant, rare summer resident in central and northern Illinois *01*.

 


STATUS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories
Forest Service Categories: S = recommended for regional sensitive status, F = forest listed species, M = management indicator species

Federal Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed for listing
Candidate for proposal Recovery plan approved Recovery plan received (USFWS)
Recovery plan in preparation Under notice of review Delisted
Migratory EPA indicator Forest Serv.- Shawnee species

State Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed

Other:

Game Furbearer Nongame protected
Sportfish Commercial Pest None of the above

Comments on status:
Included on Illinois Endangered Species List 1977 *02*. No current nest sites are known, with last nesting evidence in 1932 *01,02*. Black rails are reported on Illinois spring counts (1983) and one was sighted in June 1975, Mason Co. *07,15*. Because of their secretive habits, nesting may be overlooked. For former and present distribution. See *02*. Black rails are also protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 1918 *14* and the Illinois Wildlife Code,1971 *18*

 


HABITAT ASSOCIATIONS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories

General habitat:

Unknown Terrestrial Aquatic Riparian

USFS timber inventory forest size class:

Unknown Unstocked Seedling Sapling
Seedling/sapling Pole Mature Over mature

Land use and land cover:

Unknown   Urban Residential
Commercial
Industrial
Transportation, communication
Complex industrial/commercial
Mixed
Other
Agricultural Crop, pasture
Orchards, groves, nurseries
Feedlot
Other
Rangeland Herbaceous
Shrub and brush
Mixed
Forestland Deciduous
Evergreen
Mixed
Water Stream
Lake
Reservoir
Bay
Wetland Forest
Non-forest
Barren Salt flat
Beach
Sand
Rock
Mine
Transit
Mix

 


Forest cover types: No records.

Associated tree species: No records.

National wetland inventory classifications:

SystemSubsystemClassSubclassWater regime modifiersWater chemistry
Palustrine   Emergent vegetation Persistent Intermittently exposed/permanent nontidal Freshwater
Palustrine   Emergent vegetation Narrowleaved persistent Intermittently exposed/permanent nontidal Freshwater
Upland   Unknown Unknown Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified

Comments on species-habitat associations:
Black rails usually frequent wet areas where dense but not necessarily tall growths of rushes, sedges or grasses are present *01,05*.

Important plant and animal association: Rushes and sedges. Rush and sedge species are usually associated with breeding habitat *01,02*. for some associated plant spp. in Illinois see *07*.

High value habitats

HabitatStructural stageSeason
Cropland and pasture Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
Spring/summer
Cropland and pasture Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
Fall
Nonforested wetland Special habitat Spring/summer
Nonforested wetland Special habitat Fall
Wet prairie Special habitat Spring/summer
Wet prairie Special habitat Fall
Marsh Special habitat Spring/summer
Marsh Special habitat Fall
Sedge meadow Special habitat Spring/summer
Sedge meadow Special habitat Fall
Cropland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
Spring/summer
Cropland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
Fall

Species-habitat interrelations: Black rails frequent marshes, sedge meadows or areas where dense but not necessarily tall growths of rushes, sedges or grasses are present, preferrably with a damp ground surface *01,05*. Black rails are also found in rank grain fields such as hay or oats or sometimes grasslands *05,07*. Rank old marsh growth is apparently preferred to disturbed areas *05*. For necessary habitat components in Colo. see *06*.

 


GUILDS

Feed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonFeed-guilds
Wetland Special habitat Fall Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface- invertebrates other than arthropods
Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Wetland Special habitat Spring/summer Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface- invertebrates other than arthropods
Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Cropland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
Fall Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface- invertebrates other than arthropods
Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Cropland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
Spring/summer Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface- invertebrates other than arthropods
Terrestrial surface- arthropods

Comments on feed-guilding:
Little is known of the food habits of the black rail but it is thought to feed mainly on insects, arthropods and some seeds of aquatic plants all of which are gleaned from marsh vegetation or picked from ground *11*.

Breed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonBreed-Guilds
Wetland Special habitat Spring/summer Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
River/lake/marsh, vascular plants- emergent, nonwoody
Terrestrial surface

Comments on breed-guilding:
Typically breeds in a dense but not necessarily tall growth form of rushes, sedges or grasses accompanied by a wet ground surface.

 


FOOD-HABITS

Trophic level is OMNIVORE

Food itemLife stage/plant part
Monocotyledonae (monocots) Fruit/seeds
Invertebrates Unknown
Mollusca: Gastropoda (snails) Unknown
Arthropoda Unknown
Insecta Unknown
Important:
Insecta Unknown
Juvenile:
Insecta Unknown
Adult:
Monocotyledonae (monocots) Fruit/seeds
Invertebrates Unknown
Mollusca: Gastropoda (snails) Unknown
Arthropoda Unknown
Insecta Unknown

Comments on food habits: 
General: Little is known about the food habits of the black rail. It is assumed they eat insects, arthropods and some seeds of wild marsh vegetation *03,04,05,11*. Insects are considered most important *04,05*. Ate earthworms in captivity *04*.
Juvenile: Assumed to feed largely on insects. Adopt adult food habits at independence *00*.
Adult: See general food habits.


ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATIONS

General:

  • Biodegradable organics: clean waters that have not been polluted
  • Aquatic habitat: shallows with emergent vegetation (littoral zone)
  • Water level: see comments
  • Water depth preference: < 1 ft.
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Unknown

Limiting:

  • Biodegradable organics: clean waters that have not been polluted
  • Water level: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments

Egg

  • Unknown

Feeding juvenile:

  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Agricultural crops: see comments

Resting juvenile:

  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Agricultural crops: see comments

Feeding adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Agricultural crops: see comments

Resting adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Agricultural crops: see comments

Breeding adult:

  • Water depth preference: < 1 ft.
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments

Comments on environmental associations:
General: Black rails are associated with wetland situations where dense but not necessarily tall growths of grasses, sedges or rushes are present, together with a damp or wet ground surfacs *01,05*. This species is sometimes found in rank grasslands or grainfields such as hay or oats *04,07*. Limiting factors appear to be fluctuating water levels (for details see *06*), the availability of wetland habitat and possibly pollution *05,06*.
Feeding juvenile: Assumed to feed in marshes and fields *00*.
Resting juvenile: Assume rest in rank marsh vegetation and grasses *00*.
Feeding adult: Feeds in marshes and fields from grasslike vegetation and ground surface *11*.
Resting adult: Rests in rank marsh vegetation or grasses.
Breeding adult: Typically breeds in a dense but not necessarily tall growth form of rushes, sedges, or grasses accompanied by a wet ground surface *05*.


LIFE HISTORY

Origin: Native *01,13*.

Physical description: Smallest of the rails; sparrow size, length 5-6 in., wingspread 10 1/2-11 1/2 in., weight 2-2 3/4 oz. Sexes alike, female smaller. Slate-colored with short black bill, red eyes, chestnut nape, back and wings speckled with white, flanks barred with white. Extremely difficult to flush and rarely seen. May recognize by distinctive song of male 'kic kic kerr'.For further description of male & female voice see *03,10,16*, voice see *10*. *03,10,16*.

Reproduction: Little information exists for the black rail. Breeding season is not described for Illinois but assumed to be May-Aug. *00, 05*. No descriptions of courtship are available although male is known to sing frequently during this time *10,11,17*. Assumed territorial but who chooses territory and nest site unavailable. It is unknown which sex constructs nest. Cup nest usually constructed of dry grasses or sedges and typically placed in thick clumps of marsh grasses or tussocks either elevated in the vegetation or sometimes on damp ground *03,04,07,17*. Standing grasses bent over form an arch to completely conceal nest from above *03,04,17*. Egg dates for Illinois are unavailable; mich. May 7, minn. May 27 *11*. Eggs of L.j. jamaicensis are buffy to pinkish white which are rather evenly spotted with browns; 25.6 x 19.8 mm (92) *04,07,17*. Clutch size from 6-10 (4-13) *04,07*. Eggs may be layed over prd. of days but hatching and usually nest departure take place the same day *05,08*. Apparently incubation begins after last egg is layed but length of period is unknown *05*. Hatchlings are covered with black down and when dry leave nest. Heaton (1937) reported the male watches the fledged chicks as the female waits for the last chick to hatch before joining the group. Both sexes share in the care of the young *08*. Age at independence or first flight unknown. Age at 1st reproduction unknown. Usually 1 reproductive period/year but may be 2 breeding efforts in southern U.S. *05*.

Behavior: Territory or home range size unknown. Density of L.j. conturniculus in Ariz. Were 1.14/ha 1973, 0.73/ha winter 1973-74; 1.58/ha 1974, for details see *06*. Black rails are mostly nocturnal (daily movements and migration), secretive and their sulking habits are described as mouselike *03,11*. They prefer to hide or run over flying making only short feeble flights. Little is known of their foraging or migration behavior.

Limiting factors: Primary limiting factor is loss of habitat. For details and management recommendations see *05*. Black rails may also be affected by pollution, mainly insecticides applied to wetlands *06*. The only record of predation on black rails is by a domestic cat and short-eared owl *17*.

Population parameters: Little is known of the population status in Illinois *02*. Because of their secretive nature a greater number may exist than is realized, still a calculated guess points to an overall decline due to habitat loss *05*. No information is available on mortality or survival rates, sex ratio, or average lifespan. Tape recorder playbacks appear a most promising census technique *05*. Areas frequented by black rails in Illinois must be identified and protected. For proposed management see *05*.

 


MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Beneficial:

  • Maintaining undisturbed/undeveloped areas
  • Maintaining early stage of ecological succession
  • Maintaining natural areas and nature preserves
  • Maintaining unique or special habitat features (wetlands, snags, caves, cliffs, talises, etc.)
  • Preserving endangered species habitat
  • Preserving sensitive species habitat
  • Performing special survey prior to prescription
  • Performing field survey prior to prescription
  • Controlling land use and human activities
  • Seasonal restriction of human use of habitats
  • Controlling pollution
  • Controlling pollution in aquatic habitats
  • Controlling water levels
  • Developing/maintaining wetlands
  • Creating/maintaining wetlands from non-wetlands
  • Protecting existing wetlands
  • Restoration of wetlands (return flooded or drained areas to previous wetland conditions)
  • Developing/maintaining riparian habitat
  • Controlled grazing of domestic livestock
  • Develop/maintain prairie
  • Prohibiting hunting
  • Restricting human disturbance during migration, breeding, and nesting
  • Fencing nesting cover to prevent grazing by livestock
  • Maintaining undisturbed resting areas for migrating birds

Adverse:

  • Locating, designing, and constructing powerlines
  • Recreational development
  • Controlling water levels
  • Draining ponds/lakes
  • Draining wetlands
  • Burning of wetlands to maintain successional stages
  • Clean farming
  • Uncontrolled grazing by domestic livestock
  • Strip mining
  • Applying pesticides

Comments on management practices:
Until more is known about the black rail's life history in Illinois only the management of marsh habitats for potential nesting can be proposed *02*. Areas identified as black rail habitat must be totally or partially protected form human disturbance, drainage, grazing, agricultural operations, fires and any other heavy or prolonged disturbance *05*. For a possible 10 yr. black rail management plan see *05*. Black rails are protected in Illinois by the Illinois Endangered Species Act 1972 *02*, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act 1918 *14*, and the Illinois Wildlife Code, 1971 *18*.

 


REFERENCES

0. MALMBORG, P.L. 1984. IL. NAT. HIST. SURV. 607 E. PEABODY DR. CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (217)333-6846.

1. BOHLEN, H. 1978. AN ANNOTATED CHECK-LIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS STATE MUS. POP. SCI. SER., VOL. IX. 156 P.

2. BOWLES, M.L., V.E. DIERSING, J.E. EBINGER AND H.C. SCHULTZ, EDS. 1981. ENDANGERED AND THREATENED VERTEBRATE ANIMALS AND VASCULAR PLANTS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS DEPT. CONSERV. 189 P.

3. TERRES, J. 1980. AUDUBON SOCIETY: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. ALFRED KNOPF, NEW YORK. 1109 P.

4. BENT, A.C. 1926. LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN MARSH BIRDS. U.S. NATL. MUS. BULL. NO. 135.

5. HOLLIMAN, D.C., CHAIRMAN. 1977. RAILS AND GALLINULES. PAGES 45-122. IN G.C. SANDERSON (EDITOR). MANAGEMENT OF MIGRATORY SHORE AND UPLAND GAME BIRDS IN NORTH AMERICA. INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FISH & WILDLIFE AGENCIES, WASHINGTON, D.C. 358 PP.

6. REPKING, C.F. AND R.D. OHMART. 1977. DISTRIBUTION AND DENSITY OF BLACK RAIL POPULATIONS ALONG THE LOWER COLORADO RIVER. CONDOR 79:486-489.

7. BOHLEN, H.D. 1976. A BLACK RAIL IN SUMMER IN CENTRAL ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS AUDUBON BULL. 175:25.

8. HEATON, H.L. 1937. BABY FARALLON RAILS. OOLOGIST 54(9):102-103.

9. STODDARD, H.L. 1916. THE BLACK RAIL (CRECISCUS JAMAICENSIS) AT CHICAGO, ILL. AUK 33(4):433-434.

10. REYNARD, G.B. 1974. SOME VOCALIZATIONS OF THE BLACK, YELLOW, AND VIRGINIA RAILS. AUK 91:747-756.

11. FORBUSH, E.H. 1929. BIRDS OF MASSACHUSETTS, VOL. 1. NORWOOD PRESS, NORWOOD, MA. 481 P.

12. MARTIN, A., H. ZIM AND A. NELSON. 1951. AMERICAN WILDLIFE AND PLANTS. MCGRAW-HILL BOOK CO., NEW YORK. 500 P.

13. AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION. 1982. THIRTY-FOURTH SUPPLEMENT TO THE AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION. CHECK-LIST OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. SUPPLEMENT AUK 99(3).

14. U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE. 1983. CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS. TI- TLE 50. WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES. CHAPTER 1. PP 11-18. 50 CFR 10.13 LIST OF MIGRATORY BIRDS. SPECIAL PUBL. FEDERAL REGISTER. GENERAL SERVICES ADMIN. OCTOBER 1.

15. KLEEN, V.M. 1983. FIELD NOTES: SPRING MIGRATION. ILLINOIS AUDUBON BULL. 206:28-41.

16. PETERSON, R. 1980. A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS. 4 ED. HOUGHTON-MIFFLIN CO., BOSTON. 384 P.

17. WILBUR, S.R. 1974. THE LITERATURE OF THE CALIFORNIA BLACK RAIL. U.S.F.W.S. SPEC. SCI. REP. WILDL. NO. 179. 17 P.

18. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION. 1981. CONSERVATION LAWS. CH. 61. WILDLIFE ART II. PAR. 2.2. REPRINTED FROM ILLINOIS REVISED STATUTES, 1979. WEST PUBL. CO., ST. PAUL, MN. 120 P.

 


 

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