GCBO's May Bird of the Month
Clapper Rail
by Mike Williams
The Clapper Rail, (Rallus crepitans), is primarily a resident along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts as well as the Eastern coast of Mexico and the Caribbean islands, (typically there is some short range move to the North in Summer).  Typical habitat is coastal saltwater marshes as well as wet meadows. Many members of the rail family (Rallidae) prefer freshwater but Clapper Rails replace these in saltwater habitats. The Clapper Rail has a conservation ranking as a species of Least Concern although numbers are decreasing due to habitat loss. All rails are grouped in the order Gruiformes which contains six families including Cranes and such oddities as Limpkins and Sun Bitterns. There are 29 species of Rails, Coots, and Gallinules in North America. Note that there is some hybridization with King Rails, particularly on the Atlantic Coast. This causes much local variation and there is an extremely small population on the California coast which has now been given species status, (Ridgeways Rail). It should be noted that Rails are Cathemeral (active both day and night).
Chosen food is typically crustaceans, aquatic insects and small fish usually picked from vegetation or the surface of water. The Clapper Rail will eat vegetation and seeds if they need to and this often dominates their diet in the winter. Rails expel undigested food as pellets.
Typically solitary, Rails only pair up for breeding but are monogamous during breeding season. Clappers make a rough nest of aquatic vegetation just off the ground and typically lay 3-6 eggs, (the number of eggs is variable and up to 16 have been recorded). Both parents incubate for a long 18 to 29 days. The male typically builds the nest and does most of the incubation at night. Females incubate during the day.
Clapper rails are slender, chicken-like rails and are typically brown gray and rufous upperparts. Unlike other similar rails (King rail), it typically has dark streaks. The breast is buffy gray with the belly being dark with white streaks, (though not as distinctive as other rails). Its eye is red to orange and has a distinctively dark face. Wings are typically drab olive. Note there are at least 2 color morphs, rufous and gray, and ten subspecies (the TX subspecies saturates is the brightest and can be very striking). Clappers do not like to fly and will run or swim to escape danger rather than fly

Interesting Facts:
·          The collective noun for a group of rails is an Applause, an Audience or a Commercial.
·          First described by Dutchman Pieter Boddaert in 1783 on French Guyana. He was a close associate of Linnaeus and even today 190 taxa (including 112 species) are defined as a result of his work (according to the International Ornithological Union).
·          Clapper rails have special glands that allow them to drink salt water .
·          Eggs will still hatch even if covered by 18 inches of water at high tides.
·          In high water chicks can be carried on their adults back like Grebes.
·          A week after hatching the chicks are divided into two with the parents looking after half each.
To download Mike Williams's photo of this cool bird, click HERE

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