Aug 15 2011


Published by at 7:30 am under Water and Shore

Here's a bird you don't see every day -- even if you live near a saltmarsh.

This is a family of clapper rails (Rallus longirostris), a chicken-sized bird who lives on the coasts of North and South America, ranging from California to Ecuador and Cape Cod to Brazil.  (There's also a small population along the lower Colorado River.)

Clapper rails have a reputation for being shy but this is probably because they're so hard to find.  They rarely fly so you won't see them in the air.  Instead they prefer to walk through very dense saltmarsh vegetation looking for their favorite foods: crustaceans, insects, small fish and even bird eggs.

Though hard to find, it's common to hear their calls when they're courting.  They probably make so much noise because they can't see each other.

Steve Gosser was lucky to see a whole family of clapper rails in coastal Maryland.  I'm glad he had his camera ready!

(photo by Steve Gosser)

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Shy?”

  1. kellyon 15 Aug 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Clapper rails do have a reputation for being shy, but if you have some patience you can usually spot them fairly easily due to their avid desire to bathe. They reside at my local saltmarsh and will usually come out (at a lower tide) eventually to skitter across the creek, wade across the creek, feed at the creek edge or bathe. They LOVE to bathe and put much effort into this activity. They don’t actually seem too aware of my presence visually and so I get fairly long looks as long as I am relatively still and quiet. They seem to be sensitive to sound and will skitter away quickly if they hear a sound they don’t like. I often wonder how they have the strength to migrate since they fly that often normally. They are fun to watch.

  2. Kate St. Johnon 15 Aug 2011 at 7:09 pm

    That’s a very cool observation. I had no idea that they like to take baths.

  3. Joshon 15 Aug 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Last Memorial Day weekend while I was in Delaware I began to doubt this reputation, which was repeated in my field guide. My Dad and I got up early in the morning to go look for shorebirds, a practice which is almost becoming a ritual due to the fact that we always visit our grandparents in Dover on memorial day weekend. At our first stop (the DuPont Nature Center) we heard a clapper rail “clapping” loudly not too far away, and I was surprised to see that it was right in the open, standing on a stump that stuck out of the reeds. As we were driving to our next location, we saw another one walk across the drive way to the center right in front of our car. Wether it was the time of day or the time of year, I still wonder if my experience was unusual or not.

  4. kellyon 16 Aug 2011 at 10:21 am

    Kate. It’s funny. You made me wonder if anyone else agreed that clapper rails love to bathe. I found this blog entry.

    I found numerous video clips of clappers bathing too.

    ps—The clappers in my nearby saltmarsh will have as many as 9 young sometimes. It’s a real hoot to see them all skitter across the creek in a skittery clapper parade.

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