Clapper Rail

Rallus crepitans
Range Map

In 2014, several subspecies of the Clapper Rail clan received full species status. The west coastal “Light-Footed Clapper Rail” became the Ridgway’s Rail (Rallus obsoletus levipes), and the “Yuma Clapper Rail” became the subspecies Rallus obsoletus yumanensis by order of the high command of the American Ornithological Union. But those members living along the coast of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, have kept the name of “Clapper Rail”.

Even with the separation of those members on the west coast, there remain eleven recognised subspecies of Clapper Rail. The four living in the USA are:

  • R. c. crepitans lives along the Atlantic coast from Connecticut to North Carolina.
  • R. c. waynei in Coastal Atlantic salt marshes from North Carolina to eastern Florida.
  • R. c. saturatus lives on the Gulf Coast from Alabama to Texas and Tamaulipas (Mexico).
  • R. c. scottii, which live in south Florida.

Clapper Rails have some special adaptations and behaviours that help them survive the trials of living in a coastal marsh environment. They have special glands that permit the drinking of sea water. Their eggs can survive immersion under high tide waters and retain the ability to hatch healthy young. Parents carry very young chicks on their backs during high tides and when crossing bodies of deep water.

While visiting South Padre Island in south Texas I enjoyed a fortuitous encounter with one of these elusive birds while visiting the SPI Birding and Nature Center. The bird emerged from the marshy edges and casually walked through the scene near the boardwalk I’d been filming. Then, just as I captured a few frames, it disappeared into the edge growth not to be seen again.

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