WatchList Species Account for Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species


Clapper Rail
Photo: Greg Lavaty

The Clapper Rail is found in predominantly in salt marshes and mangrove swamps; it varies greatly throughout its range, with many recognized subspecies, some of which in the western U.S. are listed as endangered. In eastern North America, it is found along the coast from Massachusetts to the Florida Keys and throughout the Gulf Coast to a few miles south of the mouth of the Rio Grande in Tamaulipis, Mexico. Isolated and endangered subspecies are found around San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, California, and in freshwater marshes in the lower Colorado and lower Gila rivers in California and Arizona.


Most populations of Clapper Rail are nonmigratory, with the exception of populations from southern New England to central North Carolina. At some sites along the Atlantic Coast of the U.S., the bird is abundant. Where their ranges overlap, it sometimes hybridizes in brackish marshes with the King Rail.


Habitat in the eastern U.S. typically has emergents and scattered shrubs along ditches or tidal creeks; habitat elsewhere is marsh dominated by emergent plants such as cattails, bulrushes, and sedges. Presence of emergent cover is apparently a key factor for the bird.


The Clapper Rail's diet is varied, including crabs and other crustaceans, insects, small invertebrates, seeds, and other bird’s eggs.


The species is subject to hunting in the eastern U.S. but the number of hunters is small and rails are difficult to hunt. On the basis of limited survey data, populations of the species do not seem to have declined, other than those of the endangered western subspecies. The population in San Francisco Bay has declined considerably, due largely to predation by introduced rats and red foxes. Populations elsewhere on the California coast have benefited from control of red floxes and domestic cats. Habitat degradation and destruction along the coast is also a threat to the bird. Information about the bird’s distribution outside the U.S. is needed.