At a Glance
A close relative of the Clapper Rail of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, and was considered part of the same species until recently. It has a patchy distribution in salt marshes of the Pacific Coast, as well as inland around the salty waters of the Salton Sea. Unlike the Clapper Rail, it also lives in freshwater marshes, along the lower Colorado River and its tributaries.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Chicken-like Marsh Birds
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Saltwater Wetlands
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Found all year in most parts of range. Some may leave upstream areas of Colorado and Gila Rivers in winter.
15-16" (38-41 cm). Chicken-sized with a long, thin bill. Mostly olive brown on crown and back, warm cinnamon on face and breast, with gray and white barring on flanks. Juvenile is darker and duller. Virginia Rail is smaller; adult colored like Ridgway's but with contrasting gray face.
Salt marshes along the coast, also brackish and freshwater marshes inland. Along the Pacific Coast, strictly a bird of salt marsh, sometimes in adjacent brackish marsh. The "Yuma" Clapper Rail inhabits freshwater marsh along the lower Colorado River and nearby areas.
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Usually 7-11, sometimes 5-12 or more. Pale yellow to olive-buff, blotched with brown and gray. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-29 days.
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.
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.
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.
Courtship displays are not well known. 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 mostly by male) 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.
Most populations should be considered threatened or endangered because of extremely limited habitat.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Ridgway's Rail. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Ridgway's Rail
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.