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Members of this diverse order (Gruiformes) vary greatly in size and morphology, but are all generally associated with open wetland habitats such as the impoundments or marshes.  American Coots and Common Moorhens are easy to find when present on the refuge, but Sandhill Cranes and Limpkins may take a bit more work.  Rails, though sometimes abundant, are far more frequently heard than seen.  Though Purple Gallinules occur in this part of the state, I've never seen them at Woodruff or heard reports of them there.


Sandhill Cranes breed in Florida, but are far more abundant in winter when migratory birds from northern populations join the residents.   During most winters, flocks numbering from a few to over a hundred Sandhills return to the refuge in late afternoon to roost in the impoundments or marshes.  They often leave the refuge to feed elsewhere during the day.  I see or hear them most often in the marshes of Pool 2 south of Jones Island, but they sometimes roost in Pool 1 as well. Listen for their bugling calls around dusk as they fly in.   A pair of Sandhill Cranes successfully nested in Pool 1 in Spring, 2001.  A series of photographs of these birds can be found here.  One or two pairs have nested on the refuge in most years since. 
  In the last few years, a pair of Whooping Cranes has spent the winter on the refuge.  These birds are part of the captive-bred migratory population that is led to Florida each winter by an ultralight aircraft in an attempt to establish a new migratory population.  This project is being carried out by the Florida Freshwater Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and  associated national organizations, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  They can sometimes be found foraging in the marshes of Pool 2 or Pool 3, or even on the dikes at times.


                Limpkins are present on the refuge year round, and are sometimes easily approached and observed foraging along the edges of any of the impoundments or the canals that border the dikes.  They breed on the refuge, and some summers, the parents can be seen leading their brood around and teaching them to hunt for and extract apple snails, their primary prey.  The young follow the parents around until they are as large as the adults.

Coots and Moorhens -  Purple gallinules are not normally found on the refuge.

     American  Coots are common winter residents on all of the pools and canals of the refuge, and are usually seen in small groups.  Larger flocks can sometimes be seen on Spring Garden Lake.  Some birds stay to breed in Florida, but they are not common in summer at Woodruff.
  Common Moorhens (also called Common Gallinules) are easily found year round, and are usually seen along the margins of canals or impoundments.  They breed on the refuge, and by late spring, pairs of adults can sometimes be seen leading their broods of downy young around.  The young birds stay with the parents until fully grown, and young birds from a pair's first brood of the season sometimes help the parents feed and tend the young of subsequent broods.  

Rails - while almost any of the rails (Virginia, Black, King, Sora) that winter, migrate through, or breed in Florida  might be found on the refuge (except for Clappers, which are mainly coastal), two species are most frequently encountered.  They are often difficult to photograph or get a good look at, though, even when common.  Black Rails have been reported on several occasions, but are one of the most secretive and difficult of any birds to see.

        Soras are small, generally shy rails that are always present in the marshes and edges of impoundments from about October through March.  Their descending whinny call is heard frequently, especially towards dusk.  The margins of the canal south of the dike bordering Pool 1 is one of the better places to look for them on late fall or winter afternoons.  They frequently flick the white tail when foraging, which often alerts a careful observer to their presence.
      King Rails are present year-round, and breed on the refuge.  They are most commonly heard in the larger expanses of cordgrass marsh south of Pools 1 and 3, and can sometimes be seen from the edges of the dike bordering those marshes on the north.  Truth be told, this picture is actually of the closely related (perhaps conspecific) and nearly indistinguishable Clapper Rail, which is normally found in brackish and saltwater marshes along the coast.

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