Although we are eternally interested in all birds, every now and then an obscure, unique, or unusual-looking bird catches the birdwatcher’s eye.
Such was the case in 2017 when Elaine and I were in Red Deer at the Gaetz Lakes Migratory Bird Sanctuary one smoky morning, peering over a dried-up oxbow. Elaine spotted some movement along the bulrushes. A small, odd-looking bird cautiously made its way to the remaining moisture, stopped momentarily and then scrambled back to shelter of the vegetation. Our first sora spotting!
Ranging from 8 to 12 inches in length, the sora has a potpourri of color to enjoy. It is etched with dark brown upper feathers, a blue-grey face and underparts, highlighted with black and white barring on its petite flanks. Perhaps not the cutest bird face, the sora sports a thick, short yellow bill, as well as black markings on the face at the base of the bill and on the throat.
The sora weighs up to a mere 4 ounces. With its large, long toes , it looks to move awkwardly in the marshy wetlands where it can hide and raise its young. Soras eat snails, beetles, insects, plant seeds and dragonflies as a part of its diet.
Most endearing to Elaine and I is the exceptional, distinctive call we hear often in the marshes. Listen for a loud, moderately-pitched descending whinny that will last about 3 seconds. Often this amazing sound is preceded by a two note “ker-wee.” These calls are used to define a sora’s territory and to communicate with others.
Since that first sora appeared, we have enjoyed seeking them out. Telford Lake in Leduc provided excellent opportunities to see them. It’s not unusual to see a sora foraging along the edge of the water in a marsh, flicking its tail and pecking the ground. In an instant, any unusual noise or a shadow of a potential predator causes the sora to scurry in a hurry.
Predators of the sora are numerous and include mink, owls and hawks. Skunks, coyotes, grackles, crows and great blue heron make meals of the eggs.
As the sora is a shy member of the marshlands, the strategic birder will listen for that descending whinny, find the bird’s approximate location, and then wait patiently for a sighting. Have the camera ready—once a sora is aware of your presence, it quickly hides in the bulrushes. That’s when you know that sora saw you!