Photo: Melanie/Flickr Creative Commons

Priority Bird

Clapper Rail

Rallus crepitans

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.
Conservation status Still fairly common, but has seriously declined in parts of the east. Loss of habitat is main threat.
Family Rails, Gallinules, Coots
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.
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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, Western
  • adult, Northern
  • adult, Gulf Coast
  • adult, Northern
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.


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.

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.


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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Harsh clattering kek-kek-kek-kek-kek.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Chicken-like Marsh Birds Rails, Gallinules, Coots

Clapper Rail

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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Mississippi River Delta

Mississippi River Delta

Audubon’s policy team and grassroots activists are instrumental in gaining national support for ongoing recovery work in the delta

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