An extremely scarce and secretive rail of dense freshwater sawgrass savannahs with scattered tussocks. It is flightless, or nearly so. Unique in appearance with warm brown upperparts, bluish gray underparts, red legs, red eyes, and red bill with yellow tip. The similarly sized Spotted Rail is spotted above and heavily barred below unlike the Zapata Rail. An adult Common Gallinule or young Purple Gallinule are passingly similar, but the gallinules are larger, have thicker bills, and have yellow to green legs. Most rails are best detected by voice, however calls of the Zapata Rail are poorly described and may not actually pertain to this species.