Clap For The California Clapper Rail

A Local Bird Trying To Make A Comeback
From April, 2009 Newsletter

by Caroline Chan, Intern

Even if you have never had the opportunity to see a California Clapper Rail in the wild, perhaps you have heard one.  Its unmistakable, clattering call (for which it is named) often gives it away.  Once abundant in the salt and brackish marshes along the northern and central California coast, this now endangered, hen-like bird is trying to make a comeback in the fragmented tidal marshes of the San Francisco Bay Area.

When visiting the Bay, look for a 13-19 inch olive-brown bird with a short tail, chestnut colored breast, and a long, slightly down-curved bill. Perhaps you’ll see it at high tide when it moves upland from its preferred habitat of dense cordgrass and pickleweed.  Or maybe you’ll see it feeding on small fish or invertebrates in the tidal channels and mudflats exposed during low tide.

Although the California Clapper Rail can fly short distances, it prefers to stand still or run when frightened.  This tendency to stay near the ground allows for predators such as red foxes, raccoons, skunks, rats and feral cats to find it easy prey.  This is especially so during the breeding and nesting season which spans from mid-February to late-August.

Predation coupled with loss of habitat and unsustainable hunting practices during the Gold Rush days have all contributed to the decline of the California Clapper Rail.  Today, the number of rails is slowly rising as conservationists work hard to protect and enhance the habitat of a bird that has been on the Endangered Species list since 1970.

Perhaps one day you’ll be lucky enough to get a glimpse of the elusive California Clapper Rail.  If not, just keep your ears open for the unmistakable “cac, cac, cac, cac, ca, caha, caha” call of a species which is trying so hard to make a comeback from the brink of extinction.  If you hear it, go ahead and clap…but do so quietly so as not to frighten it!


1.  Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge

2.  SouthBayRestoration.Org