No good news for Eastern Black Rails in NC and GA
October 4, 2017
By Bryan Watts, Center for Conservation Biology
(Photo: Eric Sibbald records data during a survey along the North Carolina coast. Photo by Rob Colquhoun.)
The eastern black rail is listed as endangered in six states and is currently under review for federal listing. In 2016, The Center for Conservation Biology worked with many partners to produce a status assessment in support of the federal process. Among other things, this assessment identified gaps in survey coverage. During the 2017 breeding season, CCB worked with the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to help fill information gaps within the two coastal states. Survey teams were deployed in both states to survey a network of sites within designated high-priority areas and assess black rail occurrence during the breeding season. The surveys continue ongoing efforts by the Eastern Black Rail Working Group to collect information on status and distribution. Since 2014, the partnership has surveyed more than 6,000 locations for black rails within coastal habitats.
A network of 691 point locations was surveyed for black rails during the 2017 breeding season, including 284 in North Carolina and 409 in Georgia. The network was surveyed three times between 18 April and 21 July using a standard call-back protocol, resulting in the execution of 1,983 point counts. Surveys in North Carolina targeted coastal regions that were not included in the 2014-2015 effort conducted by CCB. The only exception to this was Cedar Island, which has historically been the center of activity in the state. No formal surveys of black rails have been conducted in Georgia so the network covered the entire Coastal Plain in an attempt to determine status and distribution.
Black rails were detected within only 4 (0.6%) points and during only 5 (0.3%) of the point counts conducted across both states. Detections were only made in North Carolina and only on Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, an area already known to support these birds. The extensive survey effort resulted in the detection of no new occupied sites. The effort has provided closure to some of the identified information gaps.
Results from the 2017 effort are discouraging and are consistent with observations across much of the Atlantic Coast over the past decade. Black rails have experienced a catastrophic range contraction from northern breeding areas that is progressing southward. Efforts are continuing within the Eastern Black Rail Working Group and other appropriate committees to identify management options that will stabilize remaining strongholds and slow the ongoing decline. Survey efforts will continue in both North Carolina and Georgia during the 2018 breeding season to fill remaining information gaps.