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Spotted Rail

Pardirallus maculatus

The Spotted Rail, a member of the Rallidae family, is a medium-sized bird with a distinctive appearance. It measures between 25 to 28 cm in length and weighs between 130 to 220 grams, with females being slightly smaller than males. Both sexes share a similar plumage pattern, characterized by a blackish head with a striking red eye, black and brown upperparts, and black underparts adorned with white streaks and spots. A long greenish bill with a red spot at the base of the mandible and pinkish legs complete their ensemble.

Identification Tips

To identify the Spotted Rail, look for its blackish head with a red eye, and listen for its distinctive vocalizations. The upperparts are black and brown, while the underparts feature white streaks and spots. The subspecies P. m. maculatus has white streaks on its upperparts, whereas P. m. insolitus is marked with white spots. The long greenish bill with a red base spot and pinkish legs are also key identification features.


The Spotted Rail favors wet landscapes, thriving in marshes, swamps, rice fields, and wet grasslands. It requires dense cover for concealment and nesting.


This species is found from Mexico to Costa Rica, across the Caribbean, and in every mainland South American country except Guyana. It is also a vagrant to the Juan Fernández Islands in Chile, Trinidad, and the U.S. states of Pennsylvania and Texas. Its distribution is local rather than continuous.


The Spotted Rail is known to move locally in response to changing water levels or drought conditions. It may also appear as a vagrant far from its usual range.

Song & Calls

The Spotted Rail is vocal, producing a loud, rasping screech often preceded by a grunt or pop, as well as an accelerating series of deep, gruff notes and a sharp, repeated 'gek'. These calls are thought to serve territorial or aggressive purposes and are sometimes heard at night.


Breeding seasons vary across the Spotted Rail's range, and it is territorial during this time. The nest is a cup or bowl made of grass or dead rushes, situated near the ground or above shallow water. Clutch sizes range from two to seven eggs, though incubation periods and fledging times remain undocumented.

Diet and Feeding

The Spotted Rail forages in shallow water or along the water's edge, primarily at dawn and dusk. Its diet consists of earthworms, insects and their larvae, other invertebrates, small fish, and pondweed.

Conservation status

The IUCN has classified the Spotted Rail as Least Concern. It has a very large range but a relatively small estimated population of mature individuals, with an unknown population trend. The species is likely more widespread within its range than current records suggest, and no immediate threats have been identified.

Spotted Rail Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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Spotted Rails on Birda

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Leonardo Guzmán
31 Mar 2023 - 6:34am

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