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

Description

A clattering cackle in the salt marsh is often our first clue to the presence of this big rail. The Clapper Rail is usually hidden in dense cover, but sometimes we see it stalking boldly along the muddy edge of the marsh, twitching its short tail as it walks, or swimming across a tidal creek. Historically it was abundant on the Atlantic Coast -- Audubon reported that it was possible to find a hundred nests in a day -- but now much more localized, as coastal marsh has been broken up by development.

Habitat

Salt marshes, rarely brackish; locally in mangroves in southeast. Along most of Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, strictly a bird of salt marsh, sometimes in adjacent brackish marsh. In Florida, also found in shallow mangrove swamps.

Feeding Diet

Includes crustaceans, insects, fish. Diet varies with locality, and includes a wide variety of small prey. Crustaceans often favored, especially crabs, also crayfish and others. Also eats many aquatic insects, small fish, mollusks, worms, frogs. Eats seeds at times.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking in shallow water or on mud, especially on falling tide or at low tide, picking up items from the ground or vegetation, sometimes probing in mud or water.

Nesting

In courtship displays, male approaches female, points bill down, and swings head from side to side; also stands erect with neck stretched, bill open. Male may feed female. Nest site is in clump of grass or other vegetation in marsh, near the upper reaches of high tide, or on bank near water. Nest (built by both sexes, although male may do more) is well-built cup of grasses and sedges, lined with finer material, often with vegetation woven into a canopy over nest. Often a ramp of plant material leads from ground up to nest. Eggs: Usually 7-11, sometimes 5-12 or more. Pale yellow to olive-buff, blotched with brown and gray. Incubation is by both sexes, 20-23 days. Young: Downy young may leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents probably feed young. Parents may brood young in a separate nest from the one in which the eggs hatched. Young can fly in about 9-10 weeks.

Eggs

Usually 7-11, sometimes 5-12 or more. Pale yellow to olive-buff, blotched with brown and gray. Incubation is by both sexes, 20-23 days. Young: Downy young may leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents probably feed young. Parents may brood young in a separate nest from the one in which the eggs hatched. Young can fly in about 9-10 weeks.

Young

Downy young may leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents probably feed young. Parents may brood young in a separate nest from the one in which the eggs hatched. Young can fly in about 9-10 weeks.

Conservation

Still fairly common, but has seriously declined in parts of the east. Loss of habitat is main threat.

Range

Found all year in many parts of range. On Atlantic Coast, some withdrawal in winter from northern end of range, and an influx of northern birds is noted in parts of the southeast in winter.

Listen

calls
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

Similar Species

adult

Black Rail

A tiny marsh bird, no bigger than a sparrow. Extremely secretive, it walks or runs through the marsh, and is rarely seen in flight. In very dense cover, it may get around by using the runways made by mice. The distinctive short song of the Black Rail is given mostly late at night, so the bird may go unnoticed in some areas. Fairly common at a few coastal points, its status inland in the east is rather mysterious.

adult male

King Rail

A chicken-sized marsh bird, the largest of our rails. Nesting in fresh-water marshes of the east, the King Rail has become an uncommon species as many wetlands have been drained. It remains locally common near the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where it is not especially shy, often stalking about at the marsh edge in full view of observers. Closely related to the Clapper Rail, and may interbreed with it in zones where salt and fresh marshes meet.

adult

Virginia Rail

Seldom seen but often heard, this medium-sized rail lives in marshes across much of our continent. This bird and the Sora are often found together, but their diets differ: the short-billed Sora eats many more seeds, while the long-billed Virginia Rail eats mostly insects. Virginia Rails communicate with a wide variety of calls, and some of these can be mystifying to listeners; one, dubbed the "kicker call," was attributed to the elusive Yellow Rail for many years.

Vireo

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