Yellow RailCoturnicops noveboracenis (Gmelin)
Status Rare transient, very rare in summer. Considered rare by several nineteenth century authors, but only Jones (1885) refers to a specimen, collected at Cole Harbour, Halifax County. Another was caught by hand near Wolfville by Harold F. Tufts on 19 September 1895. Other specimen records include one shot near Little River, Yarmouth County, on 14 December 1904 (Allen 1916) and another collected at Grand Pre on 9 October 1933 by W. Earl Godfrey, who also sighted one there on 9 October 1937. Since 1960, migrants have occurred: near Canso, where Eileen Armsworthy examined two birds in the hand, one on 7 December 1966, which had been killed by a cat, and another on 17 October 1968 brought to her alive; on Sable Island on 16 September 1973 (D. Welsh); and on Seal Island on 23 October 1976 (B. Mactavish, S.J. Tingley) and 22 October 1977 (E. Cooke). Summer records in earlier years suggest it may have nested. During June 1924 and July 1925, I.A. Bayley observed two in residence near North Sydney. Colin Faulkner heard another calling repeatedly during summer 1938 near Noel, Hants County.
Description Length: 15-19 cm. All plumages: A short-billed rail, smaller than the Sora. Adults: General colour buff or yellowish; back streaked with black, many feathers with narrow white margins giving scaled effect; shows a white wing patch in flight; centre of belly white; sides washed with buff and barred with lighter buff; flanks gray, narrowly barred with white; legs and feet greenish yellow.
Breeding Though no indisputable evidence of nesting is available, Colin Faulkner's account of the Noel bird (see Remarks) strongly suggests that it breeds here. It nests on the ground in wet, grassy marshes, rather than in swamps among tall reeds where most members of its family dwell.
Range Breeds from southern Mackenzie Valley, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, south to North Dakota and other northern states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut. Winters in the southern states.
Remarks This is probably the most elusive of our rails. At the approach of an enemy, it seeks safety by hiding rather than flying, even when the grass cover is so short that little protection is afforded. It is probably safer for it to depend upon its protective colouring at such times than it is to take wing.
A vivid recital of a calling Yellow Rail near Noel in 1938 comes from Colin Faulkner (letter to R.W. Tufts, 30 July 1938):
"Many people in this countryside, both nature lovers and the superstitious, are interested at present in a weird sound moving about on the surface of a swamp or salt marsh and nearby uplands. No one has been able to see the bird or insect or what-not that produces the sound. The noise resembles that made if dry bones were knocked together. In intensity it can be heard on still nights about 100 yards or even farther. The sound is located on the surface of a swamp or salt marsh; it is not up in the air at all. It recedes when approached, returns when let alone, stops momentarily when a pebble is thrown near it. It keeps the Click click click click up continuously for ten minutes or longer, when after a brief pause it begins again. It was also in the same swamp about 70 years ago.... Because of the sound, those interested call it the 'bone-knocker."
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