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The Yellow Rail is a small bird with a short tail, short bill and buff-coloured plumage. The wide dark stripes on its back are crossed by white bars. The white wing patch, which is visible in flight, helps distinguish Yellow Rails from other similar marsh birds.

Weight: Males, 41-68 g (1.4 to 2.4 oz). Length: 15 to 19 cm (5.9 to 7.5 in).

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Yellow Rails breed in Canada and the northern United States and winter on the East and Gulf coasts of the United States. Recent observations in Edéhzhíe and Fort Good Hope suggest their breeding range in the NWT may be larger than previously thought.

Range map information

Yellow Rails likely arrive in the NWT in the latter part of May and nesting occurs in June and possibly July. Females lay seven to ten eggs on nests built on or just above the ground that are concealed with a canopy of dead vegetation. Yellow Rails nest in marshes dominated by sedges and grasses, wet meadows and shrubby wetlands. Nesting areas have little or no standing water (generally 0 to 12 cm) and the ground is saturated with water throughout the summer. The diet of Yellow Rails is mainly invertebrates and seeds.

Yellow Rails are rarely seen. They expertly hide in the dense marsh vegetation, aided by their camouflaged plumage. The unique call of the Yellow Rail is a rapid series of five monotonous and metallic ticks (or clicks) sounding like two pebbles or coins tapped together: tick-tick, tick-tick-tick. Calling can mainly be heard during the hours from dusk to dawn, and the sound can carry for up to a kilometre.

There is evidence of some population decline since the early 2000s. The reasons for the decline are not well understood, but they could be related to the impacts of multiple threats or cumulative effects affecting Yellow Rails on their breeding grounds, wintering grounds, and during migration.

Potential threats in the Northwest Territories include habitat loss and degradation from human activities, human activities resulting in declining food sources and increased numbers of predators, and breeding habitat degradation from climate change.

COSEWIC assessed Yellow Rail as Special Concern in 1999, 2001, 2009 and 2023. Yellow Rail was listed as a species of Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003. A national management plan for Yellow Rail is available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry.

Yellow Rails and their nests are protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

Dehcho North Slave / Tłı̨chǫ South Slave