Written by Bryan Watts
June 6, 2008
The black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis) is one of the most endangered and least studied birds along the Atlantic Coast. Status information is lacking over large portions of it breeding range. The few surveys that have been conducted suggest that the species has experienced a dramatic decline over the past 30 years. The black rail has never been systematically surveyed in Virginia and is generally believed to occur in only 10-20 breeding locations. Basic abundance and distribution information is central to the development of an effective conservation strategy. However, the remote location of breeding habitat and the need to survey at night when birds are most active has made a population assessment logistically challenging. In the spring of 2007, biologists from The Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) launched a two-year, systematic survey of black rails throughout coastal Virginia with funding from the State Wildlife Grant Program through the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
The first field season covered the extensive marshes along the seaside and bayside of the Delmarva Peninsula. The second field season in 2008 focused on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. This historic survey will result in an assessment of the breeding population for the state and a digital atlas of breeding locations.