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Porzana carolina
– Family
Authors: Melvin, Scott M., and James P. Gibbs

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Breeding male Sora, Victoria, BC, 6 May.
Figure 1. Distribution of the Sora in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The most abundant and widely distributed North American rail, the Sora breeds and winters primarily in freshwater marshes dominated by emergent vegetation, but it also occurs in brackish coastal marshes during migration. It is more often heard than seen and gives one of the most distinctive calls of any marsh bird, a loud descending whinny call: whee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee. Vernacular names for this species include Carolina Rail, Soree, Meadow Chicken, and Ortolan.

Soras feed primarily on seeds of wetland plants and on invertebrates. Wild rice is a favorite food in late summer and fall. Although appearing to be weak and reluctant fliers, Soras migrate hundreds of kilometers each spring and fall between breeding and wintering wetlands. Many of the wetlands most important to Soras rank among the most threatened in the United States, including coastal marshes in California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Texas; palustrine emergent wetlands in southern Florida and the Prairie Pothole Region; and western riparian wetlands.

The Sora is legally hunted in 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces. Bag limits are generally liberal, but little information is available on total harvest, population trends, or effect of harvest on populations.

Key studies of the Sora’s breeding biology, ecology, and behavior have been conducted in the midwestern United States by Walkinshaw (1940), Pospichal and Marshall (1954), Tanner and Hendrickson (1956), and Kaufmann (1983, 1987, 1989).