Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Georgia
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Georgia Project

Black Rail ecology to inform effective survey design and support population modeling

January 2017 - August 2021


Participating Agencies

  • US Fish and Wildlife Service

The Black Rail is currently under review by the USFWS for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Black Rails have experienced population declines, breeding range retractions, and reductions in number of breeding locations within its core range. In the Southeast U.S., most remnant populations occur in high elevation marshes near or along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, a habitat particularly vulnerable to development pressure, altered hydrological patterns, Phragmites and fire ant invasion, sea-level rise, and incompatible management practices. Research priorities identified by consensus of government and non-government partners include (1) extensive surveys of appropriate habitat using a standardized protocol specific to Black Rails, and (2) basic life history research including nest success and factors limiting productivity, and habitat requirements of breeding, transient, and wintering birds.

This project addresses multiple research and technical assistance objectives to address the above priorities: Employ automated telemetry on a known population of Black Rails (St. Johns National Wildlife Refuge) to (1) estimate Black Rail vital rates; (2) estimate breeding and wintering home ranges and habitat selection; and (3) quantify diel patterns of activity. Collect biological samples to evaluate (4) migratory origins of wintering Black Rails using stable isotopes. Additionally, (5) devise, implement, and evaluate modifications of existing marsh bird protocols to improve the applicability to Black Rails. Finally, (6) coordinate USFWS-funded comprehensive marsh bird surveys on southeast national wildlife refuges.

Theses and Dissertations Publication Date
Tilson, D. A. 2022. Emerging technology for the study of one of North America's most elusive birds, the Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis). M.S. Thesis, University of Georgia, Athens. December 2022