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COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Yellow Rail in Canada

Special Significance of the Species

Public Interest

The Yellow Rail is one of the most sought-after breeding birds by bird-watchers in North America (Anderson 1977, Bennett 1981, Savaloja 1981). Much information on this bird, especially details on sites where they can be found, have been published in the magazine Birding, which is very popular among serious North American birders. The Yellow Rail was recently featured in an article (Robert 1997) in the Rare, Local, Little-known, and Declining North American Breeders section. Birders seek this species to the extent that until recently it was possible to take “Rail Buggies” used for flushing wintering rails in Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (Texas) and other U.S. wintering areas (e.g. in Louisiana)(Anderson 1977, McKee 1987). In southwestern Louisiana, especially in the Lafayette region, birders go to rice fields to watch Yellow Rails being flushed by combines (Cardiff and Smalley 1989).

Even though birders searching for this species do so in winter, a few papers discuss methods for observing it on the breeding grounds (Bennett 1981, Savaloja 1981, 1984, McKee 1987, Robert 1997). It would be feasible and useful to organize Yellow Rail observation tours during the breeding season, which could help sensitize the public to this special bird (Anderson 1977, Stenzel 1982); for example, such tours have been conducted at Seney National Wildlife Refuge (T. Bookhout, pers. comm.). In Québec, interpretation displays on the Yellow Rail will be installed in the high-marshes of Île aux Grues in spring 1999.

Global Range and Status

The Yellow Rail’s global distribution is restricted to North America. It breeds exclusively in Canada and the northern U.S, with Canada comprising about 90% of its breeding range. It is thus considered a species with a very high Canadian supervisory responsibility score; it is also considered a high concern species in Canada (Dunn 1997). The very closely related Swinhoe’s Rail of Asia, sometimes considered con-specific with the Yellow Rail (Olson 1973, Ripley 1977, Bookhout 1995), is listed Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN 1996). The Nature Conservancy has also expressed some concern for the Yellow Rail’s long-term global status by ranking it G4 (The Nature Conservancy 1998). Finally, the Yellow Rail is listed as a Migratory Nongame Bird of Special Management Concern in the U.S., which identifies migratory non-game birds that, without additional conservation action, are likely to become candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Status of Other Species Found in Yellow Rail Habitats

In Canada, the only other bird at risk typically found in Yellow Rail habitats is the Short-eared Owl, which was listed Vulnerable in Canada in 1994 (COSEWIC 1998). The Canadian status of two other birds that often nest in the same habitat as Yellow Rails – the Sedge Wren and the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow – were also assessed, but those two species were listed Not at Risk in 1993 and 1998, respectively (COSEWIC 1998).