Porzana carolina

  • Version: 2.0 — Published December 21, 2012
  • Scott M. Melvin and James P. Gibbs

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Sora in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

This species winters to northern South America (see text for details).

Breeding male Sora, Victoria, BC, 6 May.

Soras are medium-sized rails with stubby yellow bills and whitish lateral lines on the back. Breeding males, such as this one, average the most extensive black on the face, throat, and breast, and usually have the brightest yellow bills. The following is a link to this photographer's website:

The most abundant and widely distributed North American rail, the Sora breeds and winters primarily in freshwater marshes dominated by emergent vegetation, but it also occurs in brackish coastal marshes during migration. It is more often heard than seen and gives one of the most distinctive calls of any marsh bird, a loud descending whinny call: whee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee. Vernacular names for this species include Carolina Rail, Soree, Meadow Chicken, and Ortolan.

Soras feed primarily on seeds of wetland plants and on invertebrates. Wild rice is a favorite food in late summer and fall. Although appearing to be weak and reluctant fliers, Soras migrate hundreds of kilometers each spring and fall between breeding and wintering wetlands. Many of the wetlands most important to Soras rank among the most threatened in the United States, including coastal marshes in California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Texas; palustrine emergent wetlands in southern Florida and the Prairie Pothole Region; and western riparian wetlands.

The Sora is legally hunted in 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces. Bag limits are generally liberal, but little information is available on total harvest, population trends, or effect of harvest on populations.

Key studies of the Sora's breeding biology, ecology, and behavior have been conducted in the midwestern United States by Walkinshaw (Walkinshaw 1940b), Pospichal and Marshall (Pospichal and Marshall 1954), Tanner and Hendrickson (Tanner and Hendrickson 1956b), and Kaufmann (Kaufmann 1983, Kaufmann 1987, Kaufmann 1989).

Recommended Citation

Melvin, S. M. and J. P. Gibbs (2012). Sora (Porzana carolina), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.