Photo: Melanie/Flickr Creative Commons

Priority Bird

Clapper Rail

Rallus longirostris

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.

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

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

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.

Help this bird. Donate today
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.
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

Read more