Species At Risk

Yellow Rail

(Coturnicops noveboracensis)

Special Concern

Yellow Rail
Yellow Rail occurrences map


The Yellow Rail is a small quail-like marsh bird, about 13 to 18 centimetres long. It has a short yellow or blackish bill and a very short tail. The chest and face are buff-yellow, and it is distinguished from other rails by the yellowish and black streaks on its back and white wing patches. It has a dark crown and dark stripe through its eyes.

Action we are taking:


The Yellow Rail ranges across much of central Canada and parts of the northern United States. In Ontario, it is mainly found in the Hudson Bay Lowlands region, and is only found in localized marshes in southern Ontario. The breeding status of Yellow Rail in boreal regions south of the Hudson Bay Lowlands is uncertain.

It winters along the southeastern coast of the United States and the Gulf of Mexico.


Yellow Rails are secretive birds and live deep in the reeds, sedges, and marshes of shallow wetlands, where they nest on the ground. The marshy areas used by Yellow Rails have an overlying dry mat of dead vegetation that is used to make roofs for nests.


Yellow Rail populations declined in southern Ontario due to habitat loss, as wetlands were drained for urban development and agriculture. Expanding Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) populations in the Hudson Bay Lowlands may also be destroying habitat through localized grazing. The Yellow Rail has not benefited from wetlands restoration for waterfowl, as it prefers shallow marshes rather than open waters. Invasive, non-native plants are also a threat since they change the vegetation composition of wetlands and marshlands making the habitat less suitable for Yellow Rails.


The Yellow Rail is listed as a species of Special Concern under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. Although species of Special Concern do not receive legal protection under this act, this species is protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act. Some sites in Ontario are in conservation areas and provincial parks, which give the species some habitat protection.

What You Can Do to Help the Yellow Rail

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Yellow Rail. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit: www.bsc-eoc.org.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • Invasive species seriously threaten many of Ontario’s species at risk. To learn what you can do to help reduce the threat of invasive species, visit: ontario.ca/invasivespecies ; www.invadingspecies.com ; www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca ; and, www.invasivespecies.gc.ca .

Did you know?

In the breeding season, males can be heard almost always at night giving their distinct clicking sounds “tic-tic, tic-tic-tic”, which sound like two stones being banged together. Birdwatchers will use pebbles to imitate the call and attract rails out to the edge of the reeds where they can be briefly observed.

Did you know?

Biologists estimate there may be 10,000 to 25,000 Yellow Rails today.

Did you know?

In early fall, prior to migration, the birds are flightless for two weeks when they moult all their wing feathers and grow in new, stronger ones in preparation for the long southward flight to the Gulf of Mexico.

Did you know?

Because it runs under vegetation and lives deep in wetlands, the Yellow Rail is one of the most infrequently encountered of all breeding birds in Ontario, and is seldom seen by birders.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.