Family Rails, Gallinules, Coots (Rallidae)

Near Threatened

Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis)


French: Râle noir German: Schieferralle Spanish: Polluela negruzca

Rallus jamaicensis

J. F. Gmelin

, 1789,



Normally considered to include L. tuerosi, which differs in having plain rufous vs black-and-white barred undertail-coverts (3); pale (nor dark) legs (3); heavily barred vs lightly white-dotted upperparts (2); and different voice from that of North American taxa#R. It has been suggested that S form salinasi also might warrant recognition as a separate species#R. Populations of inland USA described as race pygmaeus (of which stoddardi is a synonym), but considered indistinguishable from nominate. Four subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • L. j. coturniculus (Ridgway, 1874) – W USA and extreme NW Mexico (California, Baja California and SW Arizona).
  • L. j. jamaicensis (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – C & E USA and E Central America; winters from S USA to Mexico and Greater Antilles.
  • L. j. murivagans (Riley, 1916) – coastal C Peru (Lima).
  • L. j. salinasi (R. A. Philippi [Krumwiede], 1857) – coastal SW Peru, C Chile and extreme W Argentina.
  • Recorded as breeding in Hispaniola, but status there unclear#R#R; also, two presumed Colombian specimens, labelled “Bogotá” and “Nouvelle Grenade”.

    Descriptive notes

    12–15 cm; jamaicensis male 29–43 (35)g, female 29–44 (36)g; coturniculus male 21–34 (28)g, female 23–46 (30)g; wingspan 22... read more


    Male gives “kic-kic-kerr” call ending in a downward slur; female gives low “croo-... read more


    Marshes, both fresh and saline, and wet meadows and savanna. In North America occupies sites with... read more

    Food and feeding

    Takes mainly small (under 1cm) aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, including snails, Amphipoda, Isopoda, spiders, ants, aphids,... read more


    USA, May–Aug; Panama, Jul; Peru, end of dry season through rainy season; Chile, Nov–Dec. Monogamous; territorial when breeding... read more


    E USA populations winter in coastal E USA (S through Florida and rarely N to New Jersey) and also S... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Currently considered Near Threatened. All races are locally distributed, often rare or infrequently recorded. Both races occurring in USA regarded as... read more

    Recommended citation

    Taylor, B. & Christie, D.A. (2019). Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 11 December 2019).