"What a Song Will Do"
When I first became interested in birding, I found myself with a group of people climbing the side of a hill south of the Virgin River and east of St. James subdivision. There was a small irrigation pond there at that time, enveloped with vegetation, that birders liked to frequent. It was reported that the song of a Virginia Rail was heard at the pond, but not seen. If there’s a possibility of seeing a neat bird like the Virginia Rail in southern Utah, birders will go most anywhere to find it. Merrill Webb was leading this group of birders and had with him a tape recording of the song of the Virginia Rail. The group tiptoed to the edge of the pond, staying within the cover of the surrounding vegetation, and Merrill played the song. What a weird thing to do, I thought. Then in the distance, we heard a reply. A Virginia Rail had answered our recording. Wow! What a song will do! There WAS a Virginia Rail at the pond. A great muffled cheer went up from the exuberant birders.
The Virginia Rail is a secretive bird who lives in freshwater marshes. The dense vegetation of the marsh is a great place to stay hidden. The forehead feathers of this Rail are adapted to withstand wear and tear from pushing through the dense vegetation. Rails have the highest ratio of leg and flight muscles of any bird. They can swim under water, propelling themselves with their wings. They swim in this way, probably, to flee from predators. While in this dense vegetation they build numerous "dummy nests" as well as the one where eggs are actually laid. The nest is a loosely woven basket made of marsh plants with a living plant canopy, another way to stay hidden. Virginia Rails are most active and visible at dawn and dusk. The male performs a unique courtship display of bowing and running around the female with his wings raised. Both sexes incubate the eggs and then vigorously defend the nest and the young.
Judy Warren is the artist for the Virginia Rail. Thank you for this great water color pencil drawing. Judy enjoys drawing and takes her sketch book with her wherever she travels.
If you have an interest in learning about birds and their songs, attend a monthly Red Cliffs Audubon General Meeting or Field Trip. Visitors are welcome. If you are unable to leave your home and have the internet, go to learnbirdsongs.com . For more information about birds or the Red Cliffs Audubon call Marilyn Davis at 435 673-0996.