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Clapper Rail Rallus longirostris


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Clapper Rail
credit: Len Blumin/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Rallidae, Rails, Gallinules, Coots view all from this family

Description ADULT From Gulf Coast has grayish face, dark crown, and dull orange-buff neck and breast. Rear flanks are gray-brown with white vertical stripes, and back is brown with dark-centered feathers. Tail is often cocked and has pale, gray-barred undertail coverts. Atlantic coast adults are duller and have orange-buff elements of plumage replaced by gray-buff. JUVENILE Gray-brown overall and lacks white vertical lines seen on adult's rear flanks.

Dimensions Length: 14-16" (36-41 cm)

Endangered Status Three subspecies of the Clapper Rail are on the U.S. Endangered Species List: The Light-footed Clapper Rail and the California Clapper Rail are classified as endangered in California, and the Yuma Clapper Rail is classified as endangered in California and Arizona. Although it is still common in the East, the Clapper Rail has become endangered in the western United States because of the gradual destruction of its habitat. During California's Gold Rush, Clapper Rails were considered a culinary delicacy and were heavily hunted. The California Clapper Rail's stronghold is San Francisco Bay, where perhaps a thousand birds remain, up from a low of perhaps 300. The trapping of predators in the birds' range, such as feral cats, foxes, and rats, has improved their outlook. The freshwater Yuma subspecies, with a population containing only several hundred birds, lives along the lower Colorado River of California, Arizona, and Mexico, where water management practices threaten its safety. The Light-footed race is endangered in its U.S. range in coastal saltmarshes from Santa Barbara County southward, mainly a victim of coastal development.

Habitat Generally rather scarce resident of coastal brackish marshes.

Observation Tips High tides sometimes force birds to swim from inundated vegetation to drier ground.

Range Southwest, New England, Texas, Southeast, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Mid-Atlantic

Voice Utters a distinctive clattering call; responds to playback.

Discussion Similar in habits and appearance to King Rail; see that species' description for details of differences. Many subspecies exist; within range of this book, Gulf coast birds are recognizably different from those on Atlantic coast. Sexes are similar.