Gulf Restoration

Clapper Rail

Photo: Melanie/Flickr Creative Commons

Clapper Rail

Secretive birds of coastal marshes, Clapper Rails are difficult to study, and their populations are poorly understood. However, it is clear that the destruction of coastal wetlands along the Gulf Coast has significantly reduced the amount of habitat available to them. Where BP oil infiltrated salt marshes, it remains in the soil and in the vegetation, and Clapper Rails are at risk of continuing to become oiled and of consuming contaminated food. The oil also killed some marsh outright, further reducing the available habitat for Clapper Rails and other marsh birds.

With an omnivorous diet, the Clapper Rail eats what it can find and swallow. Locating prey by sight and perhaps by smell, it picks items from new plant growth, the ground, and floating vegetation. It may also poke into mud or dead vegetation, but not deeply. The diet includes crabs, shrimp, insects, marine worms, the seeds of water plants, mussels, clams, and snails.

Males are territorial year round but are most aggressive during the breeding season and will chase off any other vocalizing male. Pairs form monogamous bonds that appear to last for the season. The male calls the female with a series of "keks," which sound like stones being tapped together. He courts her with exaggerated postures that feature the flash of his white under tail coverts.

Using coarse marsh plants, the pair raises a platform from just a few inches to 5 feet above the water or ground. Set among thick marsh vegetation, the nest may have a cover and an access ramp.  Five to eight whitish eggs, splotched with shades of brown, are incubated by the pair for about 20 days. Covered in black down, the chicks are soon able to walk and swim, but need warmth from the adults. When threatened, they may hide or be carried to safety by an adult. In about a week, the adults split the brood and care for their own portion, until the young reach independence at about 6 weeks old.