Birds Vol 2 #2 – The Sora Rail

Sora - for the Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Sora – for the Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897



ARIOUS are the names required to distinguish the little slate-colored Carolina Rail from its brethren, Sora, Common Rail, and, on the Potomac river, Ortolan, being among them. He is found throughout temperate North America, in the weedy swamps of the Atlantic states in great abundance, in the Middle states, and in California. In Ohio he is a common summer resident, breeding in the extensive swamps and wet meadows. The nest is a rude affair made of grass and weeds, placed on the ground in a tussock of grass in a boggy tract of land, where there is a growth of briers, etc., where he may skulk and hide in the wet grass to elude observation. The nest may often be discovered at a distance by the appearance of the surrounding grass, the blades of which are in many cases interwoven over the nest, apparently to shield the bird from the fierce rays of the sun, which are felt with redoubled force on the marshes.

The Rails feed on both vegetable and animal food. During the months of September and October, the weeds and wild oats swarm with them. They feed on the nutritious seeds, small snail shells, worms and larvae of insects, which they extract from the mud. The habits of the Sora Rail, its thin, compressed body, its aversion to take wing, and the dexterity with which it runs or conceals itself among the grass and sedge, are exactly similar to those of the more celebrated Virginia Rail.

The Sora frequents those parts of marshes preferably where fresh water springs rise through the morass. Here it generally constructs its nest, “one of which,” says an observer, “we had the good fortune to discover. It was built in the bottom of a tuft of grass in the midst of an almost impenetrable quagmire, and was composed altogether of old wet grass and rushes. The eggs had been flooded out of the nest by the extraordinary rise of the tide in a violent northwest storm, and lay scattered about the drift weed. The usual number of eggs is from six to ten. They are of a dirty white or pale cream color, sprinkled with specks of reddish and pale purple, most numerous near the great end.”

When on the wing the Sora Rail flies in a straight line for a short distance with dangling legs, and suddenly drops into the water.

The Rails have many foes, and many nests are robbed of their eggs by weasels, snakes, Blackbirds, and Marsh Hawks, although the last cannot disturb them easily, as the Marsh Hawk searches for its food while flying and a majority of the Rails’ nests are covered over, making it hard to distinguish them when the Hawk is above.

Sora(Porzana carolina) 4 by Bob-Nan

Sora(Porzana carolina) 4 by Bob-Nan


This is one of our fresh-water marsh birds. I show you his picture taken where he spends most of his time.

If it were not for the note calls, these tall reeds and grasses would keep from us the secret of the Rail’s home.

Like most birds, though, they must be heard, and so late in the afternoon you may hear their clear note, ker-wee.

From all parts of the marsh you will hear their calls which they keep up long after darkness has set in.

This Rail was just about to step out from the grasses to feed when the artist took his picture. See him—head up, and tail up. He steps along carefully. He feels that it is risky to leave his shelter and is ready at the first sign of danger, to dart back under cover.

There are very few fresh-water marshes where the Rail is not found.

When a boy, I loved to hear their note calls and would spend hours on the edge of a marsh near my home.

It seemed to me there was no life among the reeds and cat-tails of the marsh, but when I threw a stone among them, the Rails would always answer with their peeps or keeks.

And so I used to go down to the marsh with my pockets filled with stones. Not that I desired or even expected to injure one of these birds. Far from it. It pleased me to hear their calls from the reeds and grass that seemed deserted.

Those of you who live near wild-rice or wild-oat marshes have a good chance to become acquainted with this Rail.

In the south these Rails are found keeping company with the Bobolinks or Reed-birds as they are called down there.

Sora(Porzana carolina)

Sora (Porzana carolina) by Lee at Circle B

Lee’s Addition:

Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh? Can the reeds flourish without water? (Job 8:11 NKJV)

Under the lotus plants he lies, in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh. (Job 40:21 ESV)

Soras are in the Rallidae – Rails, Crakes & Coots Family. At present there are 151 species in the family. Sometimes the Sora has Rail or Crake attached to Sora. They spend most of their time in marshes.

Adult Soras are 7.5–12 in (19–30 cm) long, with dark-marked brown upperparts, a blue-grey face and underparts, and black and white barring on the flanks. They have a short thick yellow bill, with black markings on the face at the base of the bill and on the throat. Sexes are similar, but young Soras lack the black facial markings and have a whitish face and buff breast. They weigh about 1.7–4.0 oz (49–112 g).

The Sora’s breeding habitat is marshes throughout much of North America. They nest in a well-concealed location in dense vegetation. The female usually lays 10 to 12 eggs, sometimes as many as 18, in a cup built from marsh vegetation. The eggs do not all hatch together. Both parents incubate and feed the young, who leave the nest soon after they hatch and are able to fly within a month.

They migrate to the southern United States and northern South America. Sora is a very rare vagrant to western Europe, where it can be confused with Spotted Crake. However, the latter species always has spotting on the breast. a streaked crown stripe, and a different wing pattern.

Soras forage while walking or swimming. They are omnivores, eating seeds, insects and snails. Although Soras are more often heard than seen, they are sometimes seen walking near open water. They are fairly common, despite a decrease in suitable habitat in recent times. The call is a slow whistled ker-whee, or a descending whinny. The use of call broadcasts greatly increases the chances of hearing a Sora. Call broadcasts can also increase the chances of seeing a Sora, as they will often investigate the source of the call.

Interesting photo of a Sora defending it’s nest from a snake. (by nsxbirder)


Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial that was started in January 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Kentucky Warbler

The Previous Article – The American Osprey

ABC’s Of The Gospel


Sora (bird) – Wikipedia

Sora – All About Birds


Birdwatching Adventure – Circle B Bar Reserve – 1/16/12

Sora (Porzana carolina) by Lee at Circle B

Sora (Porzana carolina) by Lee at Circle B

Dan and I went over to Circle B Bar Reserve on Monday, January 16th. We had a great time birding and we got to view a “Life Bird.” (This one is for real.) See the photo above. “Life Birds” are what you call a bird species the first time you see one. We now have 3 life birds this year. The Sora seen here is the second one for the year. The first one was a Hooded Grebe on Saturday. and I spotted a third one today, a Redhead, at Lake Morton.

The Sora is a bird in the Rails, Crakes & Coots – Rallidae Family. They are 7.9-9.8 in (20-25 cm) and weigh about 1.4-4 oz (49-112 g). So they are not a large bird. I found it among the Common Gallinule and that is what help me realize that it was different and smaller. Been looking for a Sora for months out at Circle B. Knew they were there, just never found one.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) by Lee Circle B

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) by Lee Circle B

Another highlight of our trip was finding 2 Belted Kingfishers, close-up and personal. They are hard to photograph, but this time they were showing off right in front of us. They were hovering and then diving for their food. Was great to watch them. They are in the Kingfisher – Alcedinidae Family. They are medium sized, actually we both were surprised they are as large as they are. They always appear to have a very short squatty neck. They are 11–13.8 in (28–35 cm), weigh 4.9–6 oz (140–170 g) and have a 19-22 in (48-58cm) wingspan.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) by Lee Circle B

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) by Lee Circle B

Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; And let those who love Your salvation say continually, “Let God be magnified!” (Psalms 70:4 NKJV)

We also spotted several Alligators.

Here is the list that I turned in to

37 species total

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 20
Mottled Duck 2
Ruddy Duck 2
Double-crested Cormorant 2
Anhinga 1
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 3
Little Blue Heron 2
Cattle Egret 15
Turkey Vulture 50
Osprey 1
Northern Harrier 1
Common Gallinule 10
American Coot 20
Sandhill Crane 6
Killdeer 1
Mourning Dove 5
Tree Swallow 30
Northern Mockingbird 1
Palm Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Boat-tailed Grackle 5

Wordless Birds


Ian’s Bird of the Week – Sora

Sora (Porzana carolina) by Ian

Sora (Porzana carolina) by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Sora (#382) ~ By Ian Montgomery

Newsletter (#382)  – 09-29-10

Any birds that are a challenge to see exert a particular fascination. This includes all the night birds – owls, nightjars, etc – and all the skulkers and lurkers. We had a classic skulker, the American Bittern, a couple of weeks ago, and the crakes and rails belong in the same category and the same habitat. In Australia, I’ve never seen a Lewin’s Rail and I’ve never photographed a Spotless Crake. Here in the US, the Clapper Rails at the Baylands Park at Palo Alto are giving me a hard time too, but the Sora, a crake, and the Virginia Rail have been more obliging.

The Sora (Porzana carolina) is very close related to the Australian Spotted Crake (Porzana fluminea) and looks very similar, but lacks the Moorhen-like red spot on the bill. They both live in reedbeds but will sometimes come out into the open to feed, particularly in the evening and when water levels are low, as they are here now in California at the end of a dry summer.

Sora (Porzana carolina) by Ian

Sora (Porzana carolina) by Ian

I’ve recently visited a park in the hills above San Jose three times looking without success for Golden Eagles, but each time I’ve seen a Sora and twice a Virginia Rail as well. In fact, the bird in the first photo came out into the sunshine to feed on the edge of the reed when we – my sister is here now – were watching for a less cooperative Virginia Rail, that was making a lot of noise. All the crakes and rails have very distinctive, loud calls, so presumably they, like the bittern, have trouble seeing each other too.

Both species are widespread throughout the United Sates and southern Canada, so there’s probably a cautionary tale here about naming species after places, such as Virginia or carolina, though I’m presuming that they weren’t named after people. Both migrate, so crakes and rails will fly quite long distances if they have to – usually at night – and turn up in odd places. Some, like the Buff-banded Rail, widespread in Australia also occurs on coral islands on the Barrier Reef and in the South Pacific, where, with nowhere to hide, it can become quite tame. Others like the Lord Howe Island Woodhen, have gone to the skulking extreme and lost the ability to fly.


Australian Spotted Crake
Virginia Rail
Buff-banded Rail

Best wishes,

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: +61-7 4751 3115
Preferred Email:

Lee’s Addition:

Well, Ian does it again! I saw a Sora once years ago and still haven’t been able to spot one again here in Central Florida. Ours hide a little more than the one he found. :)

I am glad that he is being successful out there in California. If I was envious, I would be upset, but I am not. I’ll just keep looking.

At any rate, the Sora is part of the Rallidae Family of Rails, Crakes & Coots. There are 131 species in the family. The Rallidaes keep company with the Flufftails, Finfoots, Trumpeters, Cranes and Limpkins who are also in the Gruiformes Order.

The Sora’s breeding habitat is marshes throughout much of North America. They nest in a well-concealed location in dense vegetation. The female usually lays 10 to 12 eggs, sometimes as many as 18, in a cup built from marsh vegetation. The eggs do not all hatch together. Both parents incubate and feed the young, who leave the nest soon after they hatch and are able to fly within a month. (Wikipedia)

Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh? Can the reeds flourish without water? While it is yet green and not cut down, It withers before any other plant. So are the paths of all who forget God; … (Job 8:11-13a NKJV)