From 1993 to 1999, we conducted banding and telemetry studies of fall migrant Soras (Porzana carolina) in the historic rail hunting and exceptional stopover habitat of the Wild Rice (Zizania aquatica) marshes of the tidal Patuxent River. Drift traps equipped with audio lures produced 3,897 Sora and 417 Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola) captures during the seven-year study. Sora captures were characterized by a high proportion (70% to 90%) of young-of-the year and a paucity of between-year recaptures (N = 12). Radio-telemetry studies depicted Soras as long-distance migrants with high stopover survival and a critical dependence on tidal freshwater marshes for migratory fattening. Here, the high productivity of Wild Rice, Smartweeds (Polygonum spp.) and other seed-bearing annual plants seem intrinsically linked to Sora migratory fitness. A stopover period of >40 days and mean mass gain of 0.6g/d suggests Soras are accumulating large fat reserves for long-distance flight. Radio tracking confirmed Soras as strong flyers with a demonstrated overnight (ten h) flight range of 700-900 km. Given the potential size of fat reserves and the ability to use tail winds, it is conceivable for Soras to make nonstop flights from the Patuxent River to Florida, the Bahamas, or even the Caribbean. Once a widely hunted species, a single sport-hunting recovery from our 3,900 bandings attests to the decline in popularity of the Sora as a game bird in the Atlantic Flyway. We suggest the few between-year recaptures observed in our bandings results from three possible factors: 1) the strong influence of wind drift on migration, 2) different migration chronology or flight path of AHY versus HY birds, and/or 3) high mortality of especially HY birds during Atlantic coastal and Gulf crossings. The critical dependence of Soras and other seed-dependent, fall-migrant waterbirds on highly productive yet limited tidal freshwater marsh habitats make conservation of such areas a priority mission within the Chesapeake Bay.
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Vol. 30 • No. sp1