The Sora is one of the most common North American Rails. Their breeding habitat is primarily freshwater marshes that have an abundance of emergent vegetation. During migration, you can find them in brackish coastal marshes. Soras are also one of the Rails that you can easily identify through their sounds. Sighting them is not as easy as hearing them. Their loud whinny call is one of the most distinctive calls of a rail. Other names for this species are Ortolan, Meadow Chicken, Carolina Rail, and Soree.

About Soras

Wetland plants are necessary for their feeding, and they also enjoy eating consume many invertebrates. Wild rice is another food that they consume a lot of, especially during the breeding season and autumn. At first sight, these birds might not seem like the best fliers, but they often migrate hundreds of kilometers every year. Although these birds are very common and widespread, some of the important coastal marshes they inhabit are threatened. These marshes are in Louisiana, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, and California.

As Soras are so highly populated, they can legally be hunted in 31 states, and 2 provinces in Canada. The numbers of these Rails have been declining across their range, as a lot of their wetland habitat is being destroyed. Don’t these birds seem interesting? Let’s learn a little more about them.

● Soras , Color Pattern, Song
● Soras Size, Eating behavior, Habitat
● Soras Range and Migration, Nesting


Sora Color Pattern

Newly hatched Soras are covered with thick natal down at birth. Both male and female Soras are quite similar but with some differences. The breeding plumage of males is darker than the non-breeding plumage, or the plumage of the younglings. The non-breeding plumage also lacks black face feathers which are quite prominent during the breeding
plumage. The chin, eyes, throat, breast, and are forehead are dull black. There is a gray stripe and then a black line between their crown and forehead. The middle of their crown is black, and the nape and side of the crown are dusky. Their back has brown spots, and their black belly has white bars.

The non-breeding plumage is a lot plainer in comparison. There aren’t any black feathers on the face or throat in this plumage. Their breast is brown, and their throat is white. Female Soras in breeding plumage have a smaller number of black feathers on their head and throat. The feathers are also not as dark as the black feathers of the males. Their breast is also duller and the gray line that is between the crown and forehead is also smaller. Some female Soras can lack black feathers on the face and throat. Juveniles look like adults, but they have some differences. Their lores and forehead have is olive-brown, and the middle of the throat and chin are dusky and white. In general, they are not as boldly colored as the adults.

Description and Identification

As Soras are such a unique color, they don’t get confused with other species. They happen to be the only North American rail that has such a distinct color combination which includes a black mask on their face and throat, and a stuffy yellow bill. Their size is in between other rails. It might be difficult to differentiate the juveniles as they have
similarities to Yellow Rails. Yellow rails are much rarer than Soras. Although the plumage of juvenile Soras and Yellow Rails are similar, they can still easily be distinguished based on size. Soras are significantly larger. Adult Soras have red or amber irides, whereas juveniles have brown irides that gradually turn brownish-red.

Newly hatched Soras almost immediately begin vocalizations by making soft “queea” or “peep” calls. These calls can become much shriller when these birds are in danger. Just on the first day of birth, hatchlings begin making peep calls begging for food.

During breeding season and spring migration, Soras make a wide array of vocalizations. Frequent calls are common during migration, but the frequency of these calls reduces after they arrive at the breeding sites. The whinny call is the most common vocalization these birds make. This vocalization is very similar to the horse’s whinny.

Sora Song

The whinny call is for territorial defense. It’s also a contact call for members of a pair. This call generally lasts for 2-3 seconds, and it consists of approximately between 10-30 notes. While making this call, their bill points down. But, if it is used during territorial defense, Soras might assume an erect posture as they are facing the opponent. This call is also often used as a response to other calls made by Virginia Rails or other Soras. It might also be a response to other loud noises heard by them.

This call is before or after chasing opponents, or during aggressive encounters. When a mated male Sora makes this descending whinny call it is usually reciprocated by the same call by the female. The female’s call begins right before the male completes his call. The female’s call has a higher frequency, and it is shorter in the length. The notes in the female’s call can also be more variable.

The whinny call generally occurs in 2 different periods. The frequency was generally increasing from early May-mid May where it reaches its peak, and then it reduces abruptly. From early-mid June, the frequency of this call picks back again, and then Soras completely stop using this call till the next Spring season. These two periods which include the high frequency of this call are perhaps related to the first and second nesting during the breeding season. They might also start with egg-laying or hatching. Roughly similar timelines of calls occur in other states such as Maine and Colorado.

Another vocalization that is common in Soras is the two-note “ker-wee” call. This call might be individual, or right before the whinny call. The “ker-wee” call is common during spring migration, and in the period right after their arrival on the breeding grounds. Soras flying at night have also make this call. Sometimes, one of the notes of this call might be omitted, making this vocalization like the call of Spring Peppers. Spring Peppers are frogs that are often present in the same regions that Soras live in. The purpose of the “ker-wee” call sometimes also called the Spring Pepper call is supposedly to attract mates.

Other than these calls, the males make a low cooing sound during swanning displays and chases that occur before copulation. Adults that are incubating make a gargle-like call when they are relieved from their duty, and a tug call when the male arrives with food. Another call that both sexes use is a nasal coot-like call which is infrequent during feeding. Unlike many other species of birds, Soras vocalize frequently at night.

Sora Size

Soras are small rails that are 7.5-11.8 inches long, and they have a wingspan between 13.8-15.7 inches. They weigh between 1.7-4 ounces.

Sora Behavior

Soras are ground foragers that live in wetlands throughout their range. Just like other rails, Soras are also very secretive in nature. They require dense vegetation in their habitat so they can hide in it. Alarmed Soras might fly away or run for cover. Although they aren’t the best fliers, they have decent maneuverability.

Soras begin courtship in early Spring, following their arrival on the breeding grounds. Bonded pairs are not very gregarious in nature. They actively use calls and chasing to protect their territories from invaders. Preening and posturing are two of the most used courtship displays.

Herons are predators to Soras, along with some birds of prey, and a few mammals. Younglings are vulnerable when they are searching for food in the absence of their parents. These birds are quite social after breeding season. Soon after, they begin flocking in large numbers and feed together to fatten up for migration. Although most might dismiss them as weak fliers, they fly great distances during migration. Most of the migration occurs during the night.

Before Soras chase invaders away from their territory, they make a threat display which includes, bowing, wing and tail spreading, and the stretching of the neck. If this display fails to be effective, Soras chases away the intruders. During courtship, males and females court each other by staring each other down for 15-30 minutes. These birds frequently swim and dive. Sometimes, they only submerge their eyes and bill instead of the entire body.

Sora Diet

The major foods eaten by Soras include aquatic invertebrates and seeds. Other food items might include insects and snails. The seeds they eat, they get from grasses, sedges, or other wetland plants. Insects and snails also come from the ground. They use their bills to probe vegetation and soft mud to pick them up. Soras are visual hunters which move aside vegetation in search of prey. Their short bill is perfect for pecking at the surface of the water.

Sometimes, Soras also swim in the water like coots to obtain food. Younglings require more protein than adults, so they are fed invertebrates for the first 2-3 weeks after hatching. A week following that the younglings can forage for themselves. As younglings grow the consumption of plant material increases.

Sora Habitat

Throughout their range, Soras live in freshwater wetland habitats during the breeding season. They only use salt marshes during overwintering. Their habitat is apt for them as it allows these secretive birds to hide from potential predators. It also provides them with sufficient vegetation for procuring seeds.

Range and Migration

Soras are present through most of the temperatures in North America. They can range as far north as the Northwest territories, and towards the southernmost portions of New Mexico and Arizona. Their breeding range in the east extends southwards from the Maritime provinces in Canada to Maryland in America.

As the wetlands freeze during winter, Soras move south towards their wintering habitat. Their wintering range includes the southern United States, Mexico, and South America. You can find them throughout the year on the coastline of California.

Sora Lifecycle

Soras form pairs as soon as the birds arrive in their breeding habitats. This usually occurs between mid-April and early May. These birds only raise one brood per season. On average their clutches have between 10-12 eggs, and sometimes they can have as many as 18 eggs. These eggs are laid in layers as such a high number of eggs need to accommodate into one small nest. Both sexes incubate the eggs, this process lasts for 18-20 days. Incubation begins after the first few eggs are laid. The eggs are cream-colored with a few brown spots.


Female Soras construct the nest which is a loosely weaved basket of sedges and cattails. Although females build the entirety of the nest, males might help procure materials to build it. The egg-laying process begins as soon as the foundation of the nest is built. Smaller additions to the nest continue even after the egg-laying process has begun.

Anatomy of a Sora

Soras are small water birds that have short, thick bills. They are long birds with long slender toes and strong legs. Their wings are round and short.

Final Thoughts

Soras are some very interesting rails that command such a large population. Their habitat needs to be conserved to let the populations of these birds continue to thrive!


Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes

At the Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Soras

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Soras are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Sora Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Sora. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.

Bird Feeders ForSoras

There are many types of bird feeders. Bird feeders are a great addition to your backyard. Bird feeders will increase the chances of attracting birds drastically. Both kids and adults will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. There are a wide variety of bird feeders on the market and it is important to find the best fit for you and your backyard.

Bird Houses ForSoras

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. If you spend a little extra money on bird houses, it will be well worth every penny and they’ll look great.

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