Rail, a game bird that lives chiefly in swamps and marshes. The rail has a long bill, moderately long neck, compact body, stubby tail, and short, rounded wings. It has stout, muscular legs and large, strong feet. Its narrow, compressed body is well adapted to slipping between reeds, rushes, and cattails. When flushed, the rail flutters only a short distance, legs dangling, before dropping to earth. Its apparently feeble flight is deceptive, however. Some rails make extremely long migrations; the Virginia rail, for example, annually migrates between Newfoundland and Guatemala.
The rail is noisy, particularly at dusk. Its call consists of a series of far-reaching clucks and grunts. The rail is a secretive bird, more often heard than seen.
The nest, fashioned of reeds, rushes, and grasses, is made on the ground. Insects, worms, frogs, water-dwelling animals, and seeds form the diet of the rail.
Six species of rails are found in North America. Largest is the king rail, which reaches a length of 19 inches (48 cm). Smallest is the black rail, which rarely exceeds 6 inches (15 cm). The clapper rail frequents salt marshes on the Atlantic Coast and in California. It grows to a length of 16 inches (40 cm). The Virginia rail reaches 11 inches (28 cm). The yellow rail, the most secretive rail, grows to a length of 8 inches (20 cm). The sora is grayish-brown and reaches a length of 10 inches (25 cm).
Two species of rails occur in Great Britain: the water rail and the corncrake. The corncrake frequents open fields and grows to a length of 12 inches (30 cm). The water rail is about the same size.
The king rail is Rallus elegans; black rail, Laterallus jamaicensis; clapper rail, Rallus longirostris; Virginia rail, R. limicola; yellow rail, Coturnicops noveboracensis; sora, Porzana Carolina; water rail, Rallus aquaticus; corncrake, Crex crex. The rail family is Rallidae.