Bird of the Month: Sora

By Andrew McCormick

PC: Mick Thompson (Sora)

PC: Mick Thompson (Sora)

Scientific Name: Porzana carolina

Length 8-10 in

Wingspan 14 in

Weight 2.6 oz (75 g)

AOU Band code SORA

The Sora (SORA) is about 8-10” long with a wingspan of 14” and a weight of 2.6 oz. (75g). The genus name Porzana (por-Zane-ah) from the New Latin and Italian porzana,  meaning the “crake” found in Europe and Asia from its rasping call. The species name Carolina (car-oh-LINE-ah) is the Latin of Carolina.

The common name Sora is thought to have been derived from an Indian name for the bird. It is a small, plump, gray-brown bird with a short, yellow chickenlike bill. It has a black face and upper throat. The back is dark brown with fine white streaks and the belly is gray with dark barring.

The Sora is found in a variety of fresh marshes, wet meadows, and edges of small ponds. In the winter it may be found in salt marshes. Despite its relative abundance, it is not often seen.

The body is thin, like “thin as a rail”, which helps it easily move through its reedy environment. Although they seem like weak fliers they regularly migrate long distances, many going to South America for the winter. They apparently migrate mostly at night and readily cross large bodies of water such as the Gulf of Mexico. In Washington state the Sora is uncommon in the west to fairly common in the east as a summer resident. It can be found up to mid-elevation sedge meadows on the Eastside. It make its presence known with plaintive whistles, puwee puwee,  and descending whinnies that slow down at the end.

The Soras feed in the water and on the ground, eating aquatic insects, snails and weed seeds. Courtship displays involve ceremonial preening by both male and female, sometimes bowing, facing toward and then away from each other.

The cuplike nest is built by both sexes in dense marsh vegetation, especially cattails, sedges, bulrushes. It is usually placed a few inches above water and often has an arch of vegetation over the top. The nest sometimes has a ramp of plant material leading to the nest. There are usually 10-12 eggs which are a rich buff, spotted with brown. Incubation starts after the first few eggs are laid, so the eggs do not hatch at the same time. One parent takes care of the downy hatchlings while the other continues to incubate the remaining eggs. The age at first flight is 21-25 days. It may have two broods in one season.