Someone found her standing beside the road and thought it unusual that they were able to pick up this unique creature. Assuming it needed help, they dropped the bird off at Southwoods Veterinary and our friends there called to say they had something unusual and indeed they did! The hospital staff had done a quick internet search and thought they had a Virginia Rail with possible head trauma.
Talk about love at first sight, what a beauty and having never met a Virginia Rail, I thought it was a good call, and it was very close for a quick identification. I felt like a first time parent of a newborn. What now, can I touch it, what do I feed it, where should we put it? More research and phone calls to our friends with the Piedmont Bird Club led us to the specific identification of Sora Rail and information concerning her habits and needs.
In the first few weeks Miss Sora thrilled us with her docile ways, posing as though she were modeling for an Audubon drawing. She stood so still and quiet she seemed unreal, especially those green legs someone said reminded them of the green toy army men they once played with. Miss Sora had no apparent injuries so the working diagnosis was head injury and the treatment was time. She would require tube feeding until able to eat on her own.
We made a variety of foods available that she should like and devised a land/water shelter environment, complete with tall swamp grasses, mud and a shelter. We encouraged her natural behavior to hide in the grasses, and over a period of time she did hide from us and at last she began to eat. But what was she eating? Louise Brown brought her small fresh fish that never disappeared and we never saw her picking through the mud or eating the insects provided but she was holding her weight and becoming harder to hand feed.
We began to discuss a release, and one afternoon devised a method of sitting her cage, top only, in a grassy wetland area and from a distance watched to see if she would filter through the smooth, rich detritus for food and attempt to acclimate to the area. After watching much of the afternoon, we determined she was not ready and took her home. Over the next couple of weeks she became more secretive and anxious and we knew she was ready, but by this time it was too late in the season, and consensus with other bird authorities was that she had missed migration and would need a ride to the coast.
After numerous phone calls and emails a plan emerged and Sue and I drove to Nashville, N.C. where we met Elizabeth Hanrahan, a respected avian rehabilitator half way for an exchange. Elizabeth took over from there, and a few weeks later I received an email that Elizabeth had released Miss Sora at the coast and she flew off like a champ.
Louise Brown of PWR and PBC adds that like other rails, Soras are secretive birds who spend most of their time in wet places with grasses and camouflaging vegetation, so they are difficult to see at best. One was photographed in a parking lot in Greensboro in 2005, and another in the spring of 2007 in a marshy area near Greensboro. http://piedmontbirdclub.org/sorarail.htm
There are only a few records of Soras in Guilford County, N.C. - in both 1974 and 1986 a dead specimen was found, and in 1969 someone reported that they had heard one during the Spring Count. These records were maintained by Herb Hendrickson and compiled by George Wheaton.
The Sora is a small wetland bird, (8" to 10" long), the Sora is a member of the sub-order Rallidae, which includes other rails, coots and gallinules. They breed in the upper Midwest - most heavily in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and in the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho and Rocky Mountain states of the US. They winter in the southern and coastal edges of the U.S., Mexico and Central America, and the northern countries of South America. In the U.S., they winter all along the west coast, Gulf coast and southern east coast. So while they do pass through our region (Piedmont of N.C.) they don't typically spend any time here.