Manitoba Bird Bird Atlas: Species At Risk

Yellow Rail

Early Breeding and Last Migration Dates

South: Regions 1 to 8 Central: Regions 9 to 12 North: Regions 13 and 14
Early Breeding Last Migration Late Breeding Early Breeding Last Migration Late Breeding Early Breeding Last Migration Late Breeding
May-16 Jun-01 Aug-06 May-26 Jun-11 Aug-16 Jun-26 Jul-06 Aug-26

Breeding Evidence

Yellow Rails construct nest on dry mats of dead vegetation from previous growing seasons.

Yellow Rails will “sing” at stop-over sites so some care is required in atlassing them very early in the season (see breeding dates). The best time to listen for the distinctive song of the Yellow Rail (sounds like two pebbles be clicked together in rhythm) is at night, especially when completely dark. Nonetheless, they are sometime heard at dawn or dusk or even rarely in the day time. In suitable habitat, it is often possible to increase the level of breeding evidence by listening to find seven or more singing Yellow Rails in a single square on a single night, earning the code M (multiple – probable breeding). This secretive and diminutive species is almost always heard only and almost never seen and hence finding nests or recently fledged young is extremely difficult.


Breeding Evidence Map

Nesting Yellow Rails are typically found in marshes dominated by sedges, true grasses, and rushes, where there is little or no standing water (generally 0-12 cm water depth), and where the substrate remains saturated throughout the summer. They can be found in damp fields and meadows, on the floodplains of rivers and streams, in the herbaceous vegetation of bogs, and at the upper levels (drier margins) of estuarine and salt marshes.

Le Conte’s Sparrow and Sedge Wren are useful indicator species for Yellow Rail in southern Manitoba (see photos a and b below). If you hear these species in a sedge meadow or a wet meadow in the day time, it is worth going back at night time to listen for Yellow Rails. Nelson’s Sparrow sometimes co-occurs with Yellow Rail in Manitoba, although typically Nelson’s Sparrow and Marsh Wren occupy wetter, deeper habitat than Le Conte’s Sparrow, Sedge Wren and Yellow Rail. In the Hudson Bay Lowlands, Yellow Rails occur in coastal fens where Nelson’s Sparrow may also occur.

-from COSEWIC and The Birds of Manitoba (p. 156)