The Sora. (Photo: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission)
LITTLE ROCK Ark. (KTHV) -- Sara Baxter with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stops by "THV 11 News at Noon" to talk about the Bird of the Week.
This week it's the Sora.
A small, secretive bird of freshwater marshes, the Sora is the most common and widely distributed rail in North America. Its distinctive descending whinny call can be easily heard from the depths of the cattails, but actually seeing the little marsh-walker is much more difficult.
This bird is very laterally compressed, meaning they are extremely thin from side to side, to help them maneuver in dense vegetation with minimal disturbance to that vegetation, and also hence the family name "rail". They are present in Arkansas during spring and fall, when they are migrating between their wintering grounds in Central America and their breeding grounds in the Western, Midwest, Northeastern and extreme Northern North America. So they come through here from early April through mid-May and then can be seen here again in good numbers from early September through December.
Your best bet at seeing them in Arkansas is this time of year. This is because they like to live in flooded agricultural fields (i.e., rice fields!), and they flush when the rice is being cut (i.e., any day now!). So when most birders get the urge to go find a Sora, they go find a rice field that is currently being cut, and just follow that tractor with their binoculars. Soras will flush all around it, and usually not until the tractor is very close to them (that whole "secretive" thing...they don't flush until the absolute last minute so you can literally step right next to them and not ever know they were there if they hold their ground). And an additional tip: if the tractor's tires aren't wet, you are in the wrong field!
This species can be hunted in many states, including Arkansas! This is not a very commonly hunted species in our state, primarily because they are so very secretive, but they do taste great. The season dates here for Sora and Virginia Rail are 9/7/13 - 11/15/13, and the bag limit is 25 combined. My husband and I have the most success hunting this species during the early teal season, when we are hunting teal in or near cattails. Like most hunters, we don't generally specifically target this species alone, but if one shows itself while we are hunting something else, and it is in season, we will be happy to add it to our bag!