Family Rallidae (rails, gallinules, coots, and crakes)

This is the largest family within the Gruiformes order (worldwide there are 138 species). While they have a worldwide distribution, they prefer ‘wetland’ areas (freshwater marshes, lakes, and so forth).

American coots swimming at Boomer Lake

Therefore, depending on the species, you may see them walking through muddy areas, moving around in the vegetation close to the water, or out on the water (where you might mistake them for a duck).

While the rails and gallinules have long, unwebbed toes–the toes of the coot are actually lobed (though you can’t see that unless you spot them walking around). You are more likely to spot a coot, gallinule, or the sora before easily spotting a rail (they tend to hid in the tall vegetation along the water’s edge). In term of their diets–they are all basically opportunistic omnivores.

This leads to the beak ranging in size from short and stout to long and slender. They will fed on everything from seeds and aquatic vegetation to millipedes, insects, spiders, worms, crustaceans, and even salamanders.

While they prefer to run, swim, or dive to escape predators once they’re in the air, they are confident fliers and as an overall family–highly migratory. Though there is little known about their migratory patterns, since they often migrate at night either in small groups or on their own. In addition they can become a casualty to urban lights as they might fly into buildings, fences, and other things (as they have a habit of ‘going towards the light’).

Members of this family that can be spotted within the United States, Canada, and Mexico include:

Clapper Rail

Virginia Rail

King Rail

Yellow Rail

Black Rail

Common Gallinule/Moorehen

American Coot

Purple Gallinule

Photography goals for the family include trying to get a picture of each species that can be spotted within the US, Canada, and Mexico; plus getting a picture of at least one species on every other continent.