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Virginia rail (Rallus limicola)—John H. GerardThe National Audubon Society Collection/Photo Researchers
Any of 127 species (family Rallidae) of slender marsh birds found almost worldwide. Rails have short rounded wings, a short tail, large feet, and long toes. Their loud call, especially at night, reveals their presence in dense vegetation. They are mostly dull grays and browns, often with barred patterns. Species vary from 4 to 18 in. (11 to 45 cm) long. Short-billed species are often called crakes. The king (Rallus elegans), clapper (R. longirostris), and Virginia (R. limicola) rails and the sora, or Carolina rail (Porzana carolina), have been hunted in the U.S.; several of the rails are now endangered, and some species have been exterminated.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on rail, visit Britannica.com.