Coturnicops noveboracensis noveboracensis
Status: Rare casual spring and fall migrant central and east, accidental west.
Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM12604, 8 May 1909 South Bend, Cass Co.
Taxonomy: Two subspecies are recognized, noveboracensis of North America, and goldmani of central Mexico, which may be extinct (Leston and Bookhout 2020).
Nebraska birds are noveboracensis.
Spring: This species is a secretive nocturnal migrant and it is certainly more common than the few records indicate. Most reports are from the east; of 17 accepted spring reports, 13 are in the period 26 Apr-24 May. A “very suggestive” report of one in Platte Co 15 May 2014 Platte Co was not accepted by NOURC based on insufficient details (Brogie 2015), although on this date it is likely to have been a Yellow Rail.
There are four reports in Jun, leading some to suggest the possibility of breeding in Nebraska (Cink 1973; Johnsgard 1979), although these seem more likely to be late migrants. Currently the nearest regular breeding is in northwest Minnesota and North Dakota (AOU 1983).
Two reports that seem unlikely to have been Yellow Rails were of one seen briefly 10 Jun 1987 south of Bassett, Rock Co, not accepted by NOURC (Mollhoff 1989), and one reported without details at Smith Lake SRA, Sheridan Co 30 May 1992; it would be the only Panhandle record if correct. A group of five was identified as this species as they flew into a grassy ditch in northern Cedar Co 31 Jul 2006; this sighting was thought not consistent with typical observations of the species and not accepted by the NOURC Committee (Brogie 2007). A “clicking sound” heard 3 May 2009 at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co may have been this species (Silcock 2009).
Reports we consider acceptable are:
26 Apr 1958, Lake Babcock, Platte Co (Gates 1958)
30 Apr 1973, Bellevue, Sarpy Co (Hoffman 1974)
30 Apr 1909, two in Lincoln, Lancaster Co (Zimmer 1911)
3 May 1927, Omaha, Douglas Co (Swenk 1927)
8 May 1909, specimen cited above
9 May 1954, Keith Co (Benckeser 1955)
10 Apr 1974, five in various flooded meadows along Highway 61 in Arthur and Grant Cos (Tremaine 1974)
11 May 1979, Gleason Lagoon, Kearney Co (Brown 1979)
12 May 1980, Cherry Co (Cortelyou 1980)
15 May 2008, one flushed twice by an experienced observer at Kirkpatrick Basin North WMA, York Co (Brogie 2009)
15 May 2014, Platte Co (not accepted by NOURC, see above)
May 1977, one flushed during the first or second weeks May of at Pilger RA, Stanton Co (Dave Stage, pers. comm.)
21 May 2018 Jack Sinn WMA, Lancaster Co (Joel Jorgensen and dog)
24 May 2018 Jack Sinn WMA, Lancaster Co (Larry Einemann)
10 Jun 1915, Pelican Lake, Cherry Co (Cink 1973)
11 Jun 1972, Lancaster Co (Cink 1973),
12 Jun 1920, specimen, HMM 1604, collected at Inland (Bray et al 1986).
Fall: Prior to 1982 there were no fall reports except for a tentative identification in Frontier Co (below), but since then there have been several, essentially all in late Sep and early Oct. We consider the following acceptable:
12 Sep 2018, flushed at La Platte Bottoms, Sarpy Co (Rick Schmid, Phil Swanson)
16 Sep 1982, carcass recovered under a communication tower in Boone Co, now WSC 893 (Mollhoff 1983)
19 Sep 1992, three flushed while mowing alfalfa in Dodge Co (Donald Paseka, pers. comm.)
21-22 Sep 1986, 3-4 birds flushed using a dog at Jack Sinn WMA, Lancaster Co (Lesick 1987)
21 Sep 1991, Waco, York Co (Morris 1992)
23 Sep 1985, carcass recovered under radio (?) tower at Mead, Douglas Co now UNSM ZM15789
27 Sep 1994, one flushed while mowing hay in Dodge Co (Donald Paseka, personal communication)
27 Sep 2015, one flushed from meadow grass near Peru, Nemaha Co (Brogie 2016)
29 Sep 1997, three flushed while mowing native meadow in Dodge Co (Brogie 1998)
1 Oct 1983, one flushed in Wayne Co (Mark Brogie, pers. comm.)
3 Oct 2012, one flushed in Douglas Co (Brogie 2013)
4 Oct 2010, one flushed in Sarpy Co (Brogie 2011)
15 Sep-6 Oct 1986, a specimen UNSM ZM15790 collected at Davey, Lancaster Co
23 Nov 2009, carcass photographed in Omaha, date of death uncertain (Brogie 2009).
Lingle (1994) noted its occurrence in Aug in the central Platte River Valley, but no details were provided. A “clicking sound” heard at Nathan’s Lake, Washington Co 7 Sep 2009 may well have been this species. A bird collected by a cat the “first week” of Sep 1935 in Frontier Co was tentatively identified as a Yellow Rail but eaten by the cat before identity was confirmed (Swenk 1936). A carcass estimated to have died 3-5 days prior but thought to be of this species was found at an Omaha greenhouse 12 Oct 2015; it was later re-identified as a Sora (Brogie 2016).
HMM: Hastings Municipal Museum
NOURC: Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee
RA: Recreation Area
SRA: State Recreation Area
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WSC: Wayne State College
Photograph (top) of Yellow Rail specimen collected near Ithaca, Saunders Co 23 Sep 1985 by Joel G. Jorgensen. The specimen is housed and maintained at the University of Nebraska State Museum and was legally salvaged or collected. We thank Thomas Labedz for facilitating the photographing of this specimen for the Birds of Nebraska – Online.
American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1983. The AOU Check-list of North American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.
Benckeser, H.R. 1955. Keith County notes. NBR 23: 22.
Bray, T.E., B.K. Padelford, and W.R. Silcock. 1986. The birds of Nebraska: A critically evaluated list. Published by the authors, Bellevue, Nebraska, USA.
Brogie, M.A. 1998. 1997 (Ninth) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 66: 147-159.
Brogie, M.A. 2007. 2006 (18th) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 75: 86-94.
Brogie, M.A. 2009. 2009 (21st) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 77: 160-168.
Brogie, M.A. 2011. 2010 (22nd) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 79: 99-111.
Brogie, M.A. 2012. 2011 (23rd) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 80: 112-122.
Brogie, M.A. 2013. 2012 (24th) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR: 81: 120-130.
Brogie, M.A. 2015. 2014 (26th) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 83: 125-138.
Brogie, M.A. 2016. 2015 (27th) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 84: 138-150.
Brown, G.W. 1979. Marsh birds. NBR 47: 67.
Cink, C.L. 1973. The Yellow Rail in Nebraska. NBR 41: 24-27.
Cortelyou, R.G. 1980. 1980 (Fifty-fifth) Spring Occurrence Report. NBR 48: 70-87.
Gates, D. 1958. Twenty-fourth Annual Cooperative Spring Migration and Occurrence Report. NBR 26: 50-67.
Hoffman, T.A. 1974. Yellow Rail. NBR 42: 20.
Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Lesick, L., Jr. 1987. Yellow Rails. NBR 55: 88.
Leston, L., and T.A. Bookhout. 2020. Yellow Rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.yelrai.01.
Lingle, G.R. 1994. Birding Crane River: Nebraska’s Platte. Harrier Publishing, Grand Island, Nebraska, USA.
Mollhoff, W.J. 1983. Tower kills. NBR 51: 92.
Mollhoff, W.J. 1989. Second report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 57: 42-47.
Morris, L. 1992. Fall 1991 Occurrence Report. NBR 60: 3-35.
Silcock, W.R. 2009. Spring Field report, March-May 2009. NBR 77: 46-68.
Swenk, M.H. 1927. Letters of Information 23: 6.
Swenk, M.H. 1936. The 1935 Migration Season. NBR 4: 13-19.
Tremaine, M. 1974. Yellow Rail. NBR 42: 77-78.
Zimmer, J.T. 1911. Some results of four years’ observation and collecting chiefly in the vicinity of Lincoln. Proceedings Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union 5: 34-37.
Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2020. Yellow Rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis), Version 1.0. In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org
Birds of Nebraska – Online