Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version



McGregor et al., "A Documented Occurrence of Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis) in Nebraska," from Nebraska Bird Review (September 2016) 84(3).


Copyright 2016 Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union. Used by permission.


Black Rails (Laterallus jamaicensis) are the smallest of the rails found in North America. Even though they are broadly distributed in coastal tidal and inland freshwater marshes, they are rarely seen and consequently are poorly known. They prefer areas of moist soil interspersed with scattered small pools of shallow water surrounded by fine-stemmed rushes, grasses, and sedges for use during migratory stopover and nesting. All populations of Black Rail have declined precipitously over the past century due to the draining of marshes and wetlands and demands on water resources. In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a review of the species' status to determine whether it warrants protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The status of the Black Rail in Nebraska is poorly known. Even though the Black Rail has been reported, documentation of its occurrence is very limited. There are approximately twenty reports of the species in the state, but only two have been accepted by the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union Records Committee. One accepted record is based on the description of a brief observation of a bird flushing in front of the observer and the other involves an audio recording that the observers noted was of poor quality. All other sightings are supported by written statements or lack any supporting details. The Black Rail is thought to be a rare casual spring and fall visitor statewide and a possible summer visitor or breeder at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). As many as seven reports are from Crescent Lake NWR, including summer reports. Other reports are during spring and fall and are scattered across the state. Here we report details and provide documentation of an observation of a Black Rail in Nebraska.