Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 5, 2018

Contact: Stephanie Kurose, (203) 524-0562,

Rare, Secretive Bird Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

Once Widespread, Eastern Black Rail Is Vanishing From Freshwater, Coastal Wetlands

WASHINGTON— In response to a 2010 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect eastern black rails as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The rails once occurred across much of the eastern United States in salt and freshwater wetlands, but have been lost from major portions of their range and are in steep decline.

“We’re relieved that this fascinating and secretive bird is getting the protection it desperately needs to survive,” said Stephanie Kurose, an endangered species advocate at the Center. “For too long we’ve been plowing and paving over wetlands that not only provide crucial habitat for the survival of rails and thousands of other wildlife species, but also protect us against flooding and clean our water.”

The rail has been lost from New England, the Appalachians and the central lowlands of the Midwest. It still occurs from New Jersey down through Florida and across the Gulf Coast to Texas, as well as in freshwater wetlands of Kansas and Colorado on the Great Plains, but in some areas has declined by as much as 90 percent.

The primary threat to these rails is the destruction of wetlands by urban and agricultural sprawl, but it is also increasingly threatened by sea-level rise, which, according to today’s rule, is worse than the global average on both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

“The rail’s yet another example of all that we stand to lose if we don’t do more to curb emissions and curb climate change,” said Kurose. “This bird once occupied half a continent, but it’s slipping away because of our carelessness.”

A relative of coots and cranes, the black rail is a small, stocky bird with speckled black plumage, a rufous nape and scarlet eyes. It is a close relative of the California black rail, which is not being proposed for protection today.   

Black rail

Photo courtesy USGS. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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