Yellow Rails are secretive marsh birds that winter in wetlands along the gulf coast and breed in wet meadows of the northern United States and parts of Canada. As they migrate from one place to the other in the spring and fall, Yellow Rails may stop for a day or two in wetlands of northern Texas. However, due to their secretive nature, these birds are very hard to find. Yellow Rails are quite small – only about the size of an Eastern Bluebird. They have short, thick bills and their plumage is generally dark with yellow breasts and faces. Not only does this coloration make them well-camouflaged with their habitat, but they typically remain very inconspicuous (for example, they feed in very dense vegetation). When Yellow Rails are threatened by a predator (or an approaching bird-watcher), they run under the vegetation where they can go unnoticed. Their vocalizations are a series of 4 or 5 ticks that sound similar to marbles clanking together. They primarily make these calls in preparation for their breeding season. Consequently, any birds that might be passing through northern Texas right now might be quite vocal. According to Pulich (1988), there are very few confirmed records of Yellow Rails occurring in Grayson County. If they’re going to occur here, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge seems to be the most likely place to find them. There has been a recent report of Yellow Rail vocalizations in the refuge, so please keep your ears open and your eyes peeled. Any detections of this species should be reported to the refuge staff.
Jason D. Luscier, PhD
Pulich, W. M. 1988. The Birds of North Central Texas. Texas A & M University Press, College Station, TX.
Editor: Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Big Mineral arm of Lake Texoma, at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, TX 75092. The phone number is 903 786 2826. For more information about the Refuge, please see http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/hagerman/index.html and for information about the Friends of Hagerman, see http://www.friendsofhagerman.com.