Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Yellow rail
Coturnicops noveboracensis

 

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: Coturnicops
  • Species: Coturnicops noveboracensis
  • Authority: Gmelin

Comments on taxonomy:
Other common names: yellow crake, clicker, white-winged crake. For others see *03,08*.

 


OCCURENCE IN ILLINOIS

Mid-April-early May; mid Sept.-late Oct. Rare migrant and formerly rare summer resident in northern counties *01*. Only 1 nesting record reported in 1897 *01*. Appear in spring counts 1983, 1982 *17,19*.

 


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:
Appears on Illinois endangered species list 1977 *02*. Reason for status probably loss of wetland habitat. For former and present distribution see *02*. Also protected under Migratory Bird Treaty Act 1918 *16* and Illinois Wildlife Code, 921 *20*.

 


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
Lacustrine Littoral Emergent vegetation Persistent Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified
Lacustrine Littoral Emergent vegetation Narrowleaved persistent Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified
Palustrine   Emergent vegetation Persistent Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified
Palustrine   Emergent vegetation Narrowleaved persistent Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified
Riverine Lower perennial Emergent vegetation Persistent Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified
Riverine Lower perennial Emergent vegetation Narrowleaved persistent Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified

Comments on species-habitat associations:
Associated with marsh, wet prairie and sedge meadows preferably infiltrated by sluggish meandering stream *03,04,06,10,13*.

Important plant and animal association: Short-billed marsh wren. Appears to be associated with similar habitat.

High value habitats

HabitatStructural stageSeason
Nonforested wetland Special habitat Spring/summer
Nonforested wetland Special habitat Fall
Agricutural land Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
Fall
Cropland and pasture 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 Grass- forb Fall
Wetland Special habitat Spring/summer
Wetland Special habitat Fall
Low-gradient creek Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
Spring/summer
Low-gradient creek Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
Fall
Successional field Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
Fall
Marsh restoration Special habitat Spring/summer
Marsh restoration Special habitat Fall

Species-habitat interrelations: Type (grass and sedge wetlands) function (feeding/breeding) value (high) season (spring/summer/fall). Little information available for Illinois. Marsh, wet prairie and wet sedge meadow are possible habitats *02*. Preferred habitat in Mich. & Canada apparently open grass and sedge grown marsh infiltrated by sluggish meandering stream where grasses are not so tall and dense as cattail *03,04,06,10,13*. Prefer to nest on the outskirts of damp, soggier portion *04,05*.

 


GUILDS

Feed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonFeed-guilds
Wetland Special habitat Fall Terrestrial surface- invertebrates other than arthropods
Water bottom-aquatic bed, invertebrates other than zooplankton or arthropods
Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Water bottom-aquatic bed, arthropods
Wetland Special habitat Spring/summer Terrestrial surface- invertebrates other than arthropods
Water bottom-aquatic bed, invertebrates other than zooplankton or arthropods
Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Water bottom-aquatic bed, arthropods

Comments on feed-guilding:
Eats small snails and insects plus seeds of marsh plants.

Breed-guilding:

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

Comments on breed-guilding:
Nest placed in dense clump of marsh grasses in drier portions of marsh *04,05,06*.

 


FOOD-HABITS

Trophic level is OMNIVORE

Food itemLife stage/plant part
Polygonaceae (buckwheat, rhubarb) Fruit/seeds
Asteraceae (asters) Fruit/seeds
Cyperaceae (bulrush, sedge) Fruit/seeds
Mollusca: Gastropoda (snails) Unknown
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Unknown
Crustaceans Unknown
Insecta Unknown
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Unknown
Hemiptera Unknown
Coleoptera (beetles) Unknown
Diptera (flies, midges, mosquitoes) Larva
Important:
Mollusca: Gastropoda (snails) Unknown
Juvenile:
Mollusca: Gastropoda (snails) Unknown
Insecta Unknown
Adult:
Polygonaceae (buckwheat, rhubarb) Fruit/seeds
Asteraceae (asters) Fruit/seeds
Cyperaceae (bulrush, sedge) Fruit/seeds
Mollusca: Gastropoda (snails) Unknown
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Unknown
Crustaceans Unknown
Insecta Unknown
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Unknown
Hemiptera Unknown
Coleoptera (beetles) Unknown
Diptera (flies, midges, mosquitoes) Larva

Comments on food habits: 
General: Eat freshwater snails, insects and some seeds *18*. Snails are apparently important. Eat earthworms in captivity *08*.
Juvenile: Assume young eat what is available to parents, especially insects and snails *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 depth preference: < 1 ft.
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: backwaters
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Unknown

Limiting:

  • Biodegradable organics: clean waters that have not been polluted
  • Aquatic habitat: shallows with emergent vegetation (littoral zone)
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments

Egg

  • Unknown

Feeding juvenile:

  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments

Resting juvenile:

  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments

Feeding adult:

  • Aquatic habitat: shallows with emergent vegetation (littoral zone)
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments

Resting adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments

Breeding adult:

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

Comments on environmental associations:
General: Breeds in damp grass & sedge grown wetlands, preferrably intersected at intervals by slow meandering stream, water < 1 ft. deep *04,10*. Apparently prefers grasses shorter than cattails *03,04*. Possible Illinois habitats include marshes, wet prairie, and sedge meadows affording good nest cover *02*. Limiting factors include water quality, water level, grass or vegetation height and density and extent of marshy habitat. The yellow rail appears to prefer extensive marshes of dense, shorter grasses (l 18 in.) and shallow water (l 1 ft.) *03,04,05 06,07,10,11,13*. During migration may be found in hay or grain *1,3*.
Feeding juvenile: Juveniles are fed in and out of nest presumably in marsh surroundings *08,10*.
Resting juvenile: Beneath and among rank vegetation of marsh, crouch beneath nest after hatching *05,06*.
Feeding adult: Feed in drier portions of wetlands or when migrating where water several inches deep, hayfields etc. *00,05*.
Resting adult: Beneath rank dense vegetation of marsh *05*.
Breeding adult: See comments on environmental associaiotns. Terrill (1945) suggests an optimal habitat should possess a moisture content that assures 1) food availability 2) cover for shelter and from predators 3) sufficient degree of free water to limit roaming mammals *06*.


LIFE HISTORY

Origin: Native *01,04*.

Physical description: Small, sparrow sized; very shy, secretive. 5-7 1/2 in. long. wingspread 10-13 in., wt. male mean = 58.7 gm., female mean = 45.9 gm. Short-billed, yellowish brown with dark stripes on back. Only rail with white patch on each wing (conspicuous in flight). Distinctive voice best field I.D. since rarely seen, kik-kik, kik kik kik similar to light hammering *03,05,06,08,15*.

Reproduction: No information for Illinois, most taken from Mich. (Walkinshaw 1939). In N. U.S. Breeding season from May-June *03*. Courtship activities are unknown. Male calling is known to increase during this time *05,06*. Lane (1962) suggests pairs are formed before arrival on breeding grounds in Manitoba *13*. In captivity more than 1 nest is constructed of which 1 is selected for nesting *08*. It is unclear which sex chooses, presumably female. A second nest was used for brooding *08*. Nest usually constructed in dense clump of marsh grasses or fallen or dead grasses often a few inches above flooded soil or bottom just touching *03,07,08*. Cup nest is woven from fine dry grasses, some sedge *03,06,07*. Canopy of grasses usually present. Clutch size = 7-10 eggs, rich yellow-buff color, usually speckled or densely spotted at large end with red-brown *03, 04,05*. Ave. dimensions 28.3 x 20.7 mm. *04,08*. Incubation, presumed by female alone, approx. 18 days *11*. 17 In captivity *08*. All eggs hatch within 24 hours *11*. Incubation begins with last egg *06*. Young are precocial, covered with black down, and possess a 'wing claw' on the manus facilitating movement through dense vegetation *06,08*. In captivity young leave nest within 2 days, female broods and feeds in and out of nest for 17 days *08*. Here male ignored female throughout nesting, brooding and feeding but lane (1962) suggests male is attentive *13*. In captivity young independent at 3 weeks and fly at 35 days *08*. Assumed 1 reproductive period per year. Age at sexual maturity or maximum breeding age unknown. No estimates of productivity available.

Behavior: It is assumed the yellow rail is territorial because of calling males but no information available on territory selection, size or home range size. A calling male can be heard approx. 100-300 ft. *06*. Terrill (1939) suggests rails frequent the same areas year after year *06*. The yellow rail is solitary and very secretive. It relies on cryptic coloration instead of flight for protection *05,08*. Apparently more diurnal than Virginia or sora rails *06*. Spring migration through Illinois occurs in April-early May and fall migration mid Sept.-late Oct., When this species is found in grain or hay fields along with wetlands. No current nesting sites are documented for Illinois, but is occassionally seen during spring migrations; 1 last seen 1982 Champaign Co., 1 Lasalle Co. 1983 *17, 19*. Dispersal information unavailable.

Limiting factors: No information available on predators but assumed to be similar to other rail spp. since little is known of yellow rail only realized limiting factors are those dealing with habitat. Loss of marsh habitat since 1900 and current wetland destruction probably has resulted in the critically low population size in Illinois *02*. To insure future, drainage of wetlands must be curtailed *09*. Yellow rails may also abandon nests because of human activity *13*.

Population parameters: Population size is not known and apparently may be much greater, but for the secretive nature of the yellow rail sightings are lacking. A calling male census should be possible. Considering the disappearance of wetlands, the population will probably decrease. An actual breeding pair has not been reported in the last 10 years in Illinois *02*. No information is available on mortality or survival rates; productivity; sex ratio or average lifespan.

 


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
  • Burning of wetlands to maintain successional stages
  • Restoration of wetlands (return flooded or drained areas to previous wetland conditions)
  • Developing/maintaining riparian habitat
  • Planting cover crops/preparatory
  • Estimating/maintaining nesting and escape cover

Adverse:

  • Recreational development
  • Channelization
  • Dredging
  • Draining wetlands
  • Removing bank vegetation
  • Clean farming
  • Applying pesticide on agricultural land
  • Applying insecticide
  • Uncontrolled grazing by domestic livestock
  • Strip mining
  • Applying pesticides
  • Application of insecticides

Comments on management practices:
The yellow rail is protected by Illinois Endangered Species Act 1972 *02*, Migratory Bird Treaty Act 1918 *16*, and Illinois Wildlife Code 1971 *20*. More information is needed on nesting habits in Illinois. General management includes protection and proper management of wet- land habitat especially in northern Illinois *02*. No evidence on the effect of pesticides *08*.


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. LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN MARSH BIRDS. U.S. NATL. MUS. BULL. NO. 135.

5. WALKINSHAW, L.H. 1939. THE YELLOW RAIL IN MICHIGAN. AUK 56:227-237.

6. TERRILL, L. MCI. 1945. NESTING HABITS OF THE YELLOW RAIL IN GASPE COUNTY, QUEBEC. AUK 60:171-180.

7. DEVITT, O.E. 1939. THE YELLOW RAIL BREEDING IN ONTARIO. AUK 56:238- 242.

8. RIPLEY, S.D. 1977. RAILS OF THE WORLD. M.H. FEHELEY, INC., TORONTO, ONTARIO.

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

10. FULLER, A.B. 1938. YELLOW RAIL AT CHURCHILL, MANITOBA. AUK 55:670-671.

11. ELLIOT, R.D. AND R.I.G. MORRISON. 1979. THE INCUBATION PERIOD OF THE YELLOW RAIL. AUK 96:422-423.

12. FRYER, R. 1937. THE YELLOW RAIL IN SOUTHERN MANITOBA. CAN. FIELD- NATUR. 51:41-42.

13. LANE, J. 1962. NESTING OF THE YELLOW RAIL IN SOUTHWESTERN MANITOBA. CAN. FIELD-NATUR. 76:189-191.

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

15. ROBBINS, C., B. BRUUN AND H. ZIM. 1966. BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA. GOLDEN PRESS, NEW YORK. 340 P.

16. U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE. 1983. CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS. TITLE 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.

17. KLEEN, V.M. 1982. FIELD NOTES: SPRING MIGRATION. ILLINOIS AUDUBON BULL. 202:34-54.

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

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

20. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION. 1980. CONSERVATION LAWS. CH.611, WILDLIFE. ART II. PAR. 2.2. REPRINTED FROM ILLINOIS REVISED STATUTES, 1979. WEST PUBL. CO., ST. PAUL, MN. 120 P.

 


 

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