In Mexico Rufous-necked Wood-Rail occurs on the Pacific coast from southern Sinaloa south at least to Guerrero, and all along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as in coastal Belize (Friedmann et al. 1950, Russell 1964, Howell and Webb 1995, Jones 2004). In Guatemala it is reported from only only a few sites, on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts (Eisermann 2003, 2006, Eisermann and Avendaño 2007). Rufous-necked Wood-Rail also occurs in El Salvador (Thurber et al. 1987). In Honduras it is reported from the Atlantic slope, on Isla Guanaja and on Roatan in the Bay Islands, and on the Pacific slope at the Bay of Fonseca (Monroe 1968, Howell and Webb 1995). There are only a few records from Nicaragua, from Volcán San Cristóbal and from Volcán Mombacho (Martínez-Sánchez and Will 2010). Rufous-necked Wood-Rail occurs in Costa Rica around the Golfo de Nicoya, on the Pacific coast, and in the Caribbean foothills for the Cordillera de Guanacaste (Stiles and Skutch 1989); and at scattered locations on both coasts of Panama (Wetmore 1965, Ridgely and Gwynne 1989).
In South America Rufous-necked Wood-Rail occurs locally on the Pacific coast of Colombia in Chocó (Hilty and Brown 1986); there is a a single record from northwestern Ecuador in Esmeraldas, and it is more widespread in southwestern Ecuador in Guayas and El Oro (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b); and it occurs in extreme northwestern Peru in Tumbes (Parker et al. 1995, Valqui and Walker 2002, Graves 2011). This wood-rail also occurs along the Atlantic coast of Colombia, Venezuela, and the Guianas, and on Trinidad (Snyder 1966, Haverschmidt 1968, Hilty and Brown 1986, ffrench 1991, Tostain et al. 1992, Hilty 2003).
Rufous-necked Wood-Rail usually has been considered to be resident, but it may be an elevational migrant, at least in parts of its range. Jones (2004) noted that all records for Belize, from coastal sites, are from between mid-September and late May, and suggested that "a growing body of evidence suggests that this species may be an altitudinal migrant, nesting in the mountains ... and wintering in mangrove forests along the coast" (see Habitat). Additional records suggesting that this species is, at the least, capable of long distance disperal include the first record of Rufous-necked Wood-Rail for El Salvador, which was "found dead ... under an advertising sign at Los Planes de Renderos (> 500 m elevation), a few kilometers south of the capital [San Salvador]" (Thurber et al. 1987); and an individual that was documented at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico, in July 2013 (Williams 2014).