Clapper RailRallus longirostris

adult, Western
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult, Northern
Gerard Bailey/VIREO
adult, Gulf Coast
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult, Northern
Doug Wechsler/VIREO
Clapper Rail


14-16" (36-41 cm). A long-billed, chicken-sized rail of salt marshes. All birds have black-and-white barred flanks. Eastern populations are grayish brown without rusty underparts of similar King Rail. Birds on Gulf Coast and in Far West are rustier and more like the King Rail, but do not show rust on shoulders or sides of face. King Rail prefers freshwater marshes.


Harsh clattering kek-kek-kek-kek-kek.


grunting outburst of California subspecies
rapid keks of California subspecies
excited kek calls
grunting outburst
k-k-k-keerrr call
ik-ik-ik-ik & growl


Salt marshes and some freshwater marshes.


Breeds along coasts from central California and Massachusetts southward. Also inland on Salton Sea and lower Colorado River. Winters north to central California and New Jersey, rarely farther north.


The rattling call of the Clapper Rail is one of the most familiar sounds in the salt marshes in summer. Generally secretive, the birds are sometimes forced into view by high tides, when they may be seen along roads in the marsh or standing on floating boards. Otherwise they are most often glimpsed as they dart across tidal creeks between sheltering grasses. This species may be confused with the rustier King Rail when the latter enters the salt meadows for the winter.


9-12 buff eggs, spotted or blotched with brown, in a shallow saucer or deep bowl of dead marsh grasses, often domed.

Similar Species


Black Rail

5-6" (13-15 cm). A sparrow-sized rail. Black, with rusty nape, white flecks on back, black bill, and greenish legs and feet. Can be confused with downy black young of larger rails.

adult male

King Rail

15-19" (38-48 cm). Similar to the Clapper Rail of salt marshes but head, neck, shoulders, and underparts rusty. Flanks barred with black and white. Virginia Rail is smaller, with gray patch on face.


Virginia Rail

9-11" (23-28 cm). A small rail with a long reddish bill, rusty underparts, barred flanks, and gray cheeks. Much larger King Rail has dark bill and buff or rusty cheeks.


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