Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Sora

Porzana carolina

The Sora makes its presence known with plaintive whistles and whinnies rising from the marshes all across North America. Despite its abundance, it is not often seen: As with other rails, it spends most of its time hidden in dense marshy growth or wet meadows. Occasionally it will walk about in full view at the edge of a pond, delighting any birders who happen to be nearby. Although Soras might seem like weak fliers when seen fluttering over the marsh, they regularly migrate long distances, many going to South America for the winter.
Conservation status Apparently has declined in many parts of range with loss of freshwater marsh habitat. However, still widespread and common.
Family Rails, Gallinules, Coots
Habitat Fresh marshes, wet meadows; in winter, also salt marshes. Occurs in a variety of marshy situations, from extensive river marshes to grassy edges of small ponds. Also in damp meadows, and sometimes in tall-grass fields some distance from water. Breeds mostly in freshwater habitat with large stands of cattails, but moves into salt marshes at times, especially in winter.
The Sora makes its presence known with plaintive whistles and whinnies rising from the marshes all across North America. Despite its abundance, it is not often seen: As with other rails, it spends most of its time hidden in dense marshy growth or wet meadows. Occasionally it will walk about in full view at the edge of a pond, delighting any birders who happen to be nearby. Although Soras might seem like weak fliers when seen fluttering over the marsh, they regularly migrate long distances, many going to South America for the winter.
Photo Gallery
  • juvenile
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages by picking items from surface of ground, water, or plants; sometimes probes with its bill in mud or among vegetation.


Eggs

10-12, sometimes 6-18. Rich buff, spotted with brown. Number of eggs is large for nest, so eggs are sometimes arranged in two layers. Incubation is by both sexes, 18-20 days. Young: Because incubation begins after first few eggs are laid, eggs do not hatch at same time; one parent may care for downy hatchlings while other continues to incubate remaining eggs. Young leave nest shortly after hatching, are fed by both parents. Age at first flight 21-25 days.


Young

Because incubation begins after first few eggs are laid, eggs do not hatch at same time; one parent may care for downy hatchlings while other continues to incubate remaining eggs. Young leave nest shortly after hatching, are fed by both parents. Age at first flight 21-25 days.

Diet

Mostly seeds, insects, snails. At least at some seasons, feeds mainly on seeds, including those of smartweeds, sedges, grasses, other marsh plants. May feed heavily on wild rice in late summer and fall. Also eats a wide variety of insects, snails, other aquatic invertebrates.


Nesting

Courtship displays by both members of a pair involve ceremonial preening, sometimes bowing, facing toward and then away from each other. Nest site is in dense marsh vegetation, especially cattails, sedges, bulrushes. Nest (built by both sexes) is well-built cup of dead cattails, grasses, other plants, lined with finer material, placed a few inches above water. Often has vegetation arched over top, and sometimes has ramp or runway of plant material leading to nest.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Large numbers may gather in some marshes in late summer and early fall, feeding and building up fat reserves before migrating south. Apparently migrates mostly at night. Readily crosses bodies of water such as Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea.

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Migration

Large numbers may gather in some marshes in late summer and early fall, feeding and building up fat reserves before migrating south. Apparently migrates mostly at night. Readily crosses bodies of water such as Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Most familiar call is a musical series of piping notes rapidly descending the scale; also a repeated ker-wee, with rising inflection. Near the nest, birds utter an explosive keek!
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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