LITTLE ROCK – Does driving the rice combine ever get monotonous, or do the long days of harvesting leave you looking for creative ways to stay awake? The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has a new game you can play to help pass the time.
It’s the farmer’s version of “I Spy,” with king rails getting you the most points in the game. The commission is asking that you look for all marsh birds, but the king rail is the most important species for this effort. Rice fields are the home for rails in the late summer through winter. The majority of observations of king rails have come from farmers or bird enthusiasts riding on rice combines during harvest. The other marsh bird species to keep an eye out for are the Virginia rail, yellow rail and black rail.
The king rail is known to frequent rice fields in Louisiana and they were historically common in Arkansas rice fields. Their love of rice fields has even provided their nickname of the rice chicken. Participants should look for a slightly reddish bird, roughly 15 inches tall, with a white underside to its tail. The tail is one of the key marks to look for. When flying, which will only be about 20 yards or so, their legs will be dangling below them. The other rail species will have the same white underside to the tail and also will fly with their legs dangling below them. If you think you see a rail, send the AGFC your observation.
It’s been well over 50 years since a thorough survey of king rails has been carried out in Arkansas rice fields. To help with future research projects and to try and estimate the king rail population, the AGFC is hoping farmers can help report their observations. You only have to be as specific as you want to be, but the more detailed information you can provide the better.
According to the AGFC’s nongame migratory bird program coordinator Karen Rowe, examples of desired location information include GPS coordinates, section-township-range, or the nearest road intersection. “If you’re not comfortable with that, that is fine. What we would prefer at a minimum is the county of your observation,” Rowe explained.