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Rails & Gallinules

Rails & Gallinule

Rails, gallinules, and sora are secretive marsh birds that inhabit various marshes and wetlands of Alabama. Nine species have been found in Alabama with some being designated as huntable migratory gamebirds. Most will have to study up to accurately identify them, and while they’re not well-known by most outdoorsmen, they present a unique wing-shooting opportunity for those that don’t mind getting in the mud.

Rails have relatively long, slightly decurved bills to grab and probe marsh soils for crustaceans and other invertebrates. Clapper rail are restricted to coastal salt marshes of Mobile and Baldwin counties while king rail are found in fresh or brackish marshes even away from the coast. Virginia rail resembles a miniature king rail and occur around salt, fresh, or brackish marshes. King, clapper, and Virginia rail are game birds.

Black rail and yellow rail have been documented in Alabama on only a few occasions. They are not game species. Black rail is federally listed as threatened.

Common gallinule, purple gallinule, and sora are found in freshwater marshes. These birds are duck-shaped and have shorter bills than most rails. Common and Purple gallinule are similar in size and typically depart Alabama during winter. Sora is another small rail and the most common. Sora are common statewide during spring and fall migration and remain in south Alabama during winter. These three birds are also gamebirds.

Members of the rail family make all sorts of odd sounds and remain hidden in dense marsh vegetation, offering migratory bird hunters unique challenges. Hunt them by poling a boat or wading through and along wetland vegetation while spotting or flushing birds. Hunters must have a small game license, HIP certification, and shotguns must be 10 gauge or smaller and plugged for no more than 3 shells. Alabama does not require non-toxic shot for these birds, but they occur near waterfowl and hunters must be sure not to possess lead shot if hunting both waterfowl and rails.