Citizen Science
Black Rail Survey

Black Rail Survey 2015




The Black Rail is a secretive species, and is perhaps one of the most sought after species by New Jersey bird watchers.  Populations of the Eastern Black Rail have experienced significant rangewide declines, yet little is known about this secretive marsh bird.  In response to growing national and regional interest in this species, New Jersey Audubon, the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program, and Conserve Wildlife Foundation are initiating a statewide survey to document and assess the species status.



  • document the current range of Black Rail in New Jersey, 
  • assess population changes since the last survey was conducted in the 1980s, 
  • to contribute to the development of a rangewide status assessment and management plan. 

Geographic scope:

Black Rails rely primarily on high portions of salt marshes (“high marsh”).  This survey will take place in suitable high marsh habitat throughout New Jersey, with highest priority placed on sites with documented historical occupancy and/or included in the last comprehensive survey for this species (Kerlinger and Sutton 1989).  We will also identify some new sites within suitable high marsh or inland freshwater wetland habitats. 




The survey:

 During the 2015 breeding season, surveyors will employ standardized 10-minute playback surveys at each survey point.  To increase the likelihood of detecting this nocturnal species, surveys will be conducted between 30 minutes after sunrise and 1 hour before sunrise.  Surveys will be repeated 3-5 times during the season to increase the chance of detection, and allow for occupancy analysis to account for imperfect detectability.  

Citizen Science participation: 

New Jersey Audubon is currently recruiting citizen science volunteers to conduct Black Rail surveys in northern and southern New Jersey.  Participants must have prior experience in bird identification and be willing to commit one weekend day in late-March or April for training and 3-5 evenings between early May and July for nocturnal surveys.  NJA staff will provide training to volunteers in survey methodology and species identification, prior to the start of the field season.

If you would like to participate or receive more information, please Kristin Mylecraine (kristin.mylecraine@njaudubon.org) for sites in northern New Jersey; or Mike Crewe (mike.crewe@njaudubon.org) for sites in southern New Jersey.  


Kerlinger, P. and C. Sutton. 1989. Black rail in New Jersey. New Jersey Audubon Society Records of New Jersey Birds 15(2):22-26.


This work is funded by a grant from NJ DEP Division Fish and Wildlife's Conserve Wildlife program to by NJ Audubon’s Research Department and Cape May Bird Observatory and will be administered by New Jersey Audubon’s Citizen Science Program and Cape May Bird Observatory.