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Photo Credit: Dave Cagnolatti & Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Rallus longirostris
OTHER NAMES: Marsh Chicken, Clappers
DESCRIPTION: The Clapper Rail is the size of a typical chicken with strong legs and a short tail. They have a long downward curved bill. They are gray or reddish in color with dull stripes on their flanks, the male and female appear similar except for the male being slightly larger.
DISTRIBUTION: Rails are perhaps the most widespread group of terrestrial birds. They occur on all continents, except Antarctica, and are remarkable for their success at colonizing very remote oceanic islands. They range from Massachusetts southward to Florida and around the Gulf Coast to Mexico. They can also be found along the Pacific Coast from central California southward to southern Mexico and up the Colorado River.
HABITAT: In Alabama, they are found mostly along the coastline in salt-marshes and along the lower estuaries supporting Mobile Bay.
BEHAVIOR & FEEDING HABITS: Clapper rails are shallow waders and unspecialized in their feeding habits. They subsist on a wide variety of animal life with varying amounts of vegetable matter in their diet. These rails are territorial during feeding and breeding and can be quite belligerent when defending their nests. Their vocalizations are not melodic and consist of a combination of clicks beginning slow and ending in rapid succession.
BREEDING: Knowledge of their courtship behavior is limited due to their secretive nature. It appears to be simple and may consist of duetting, displaying of undertail coverts, and suggestive posturing. Nests are built on the ground, in reeds, or on floating mats of vegetation. The eggs are creamy white with irregular brown blotching. The young are covered with black down and leave the nest within one day to be fed by the parents.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Clapper rails are in the family Gruiformes which are ground feeding birds that are mainly ground nesting and rarely fly. The western sub-species is considered endangered while the eastern sub-species is abundant. Good sport was once made of rail shooting in the last century. Its popularity has declined and few individuals practice rail hunting today.
Olson, S.L. PhD, 1978. In Bird Families of the World, Pg. 86 (J. Liet and J. Grindle, eds.).
Eddleman, W.R., and C.J. Conway. 1998. Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris). In The birds of North America, No .340 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, Pa. www.birds.conrnell.edu/All AboutBirds/BirdGuide/Clapper_Rail_dtl.html#range
AUTHOR: Stuart Goldsby, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries