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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
CARLSBAD FWO: Light-footed Clapper Rail Breeding Program Success is Something to Cheer About
Region 8, August 22, 2008
Team Clapper Rail Partners from left to right - Richard Sardina (SeaWorld), Laura Reynolds (SeaWorld), Chantel Jimenez (USFWS), Katie Umekubo (USFWS), Brian Collins (USFWS), Mitch Hall (Chula Vista Nature Center - Bird Crew), Connie Woodring (Chula Vista Nature Center - Bird Crew) and Charles Gailband (Chula Vista Nature Center) 

August 2008/USFWS
Team Clapper Rail Partners from left to right - Richard Sardina (SeaWorld), Laura Reynolds (SeaWorld), Chantel Jimenez (USFWS), Katie Umekubo (USFWS), Brian Collins (USFWS), Mitch Hall (Chula Vista Nature Center - Bird Crew), Connie Woodring (Chula Vista Nature Center - Bird Crew) and Charles Gailband (Chula Vista Nature Center) August 2008/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a
Connie Woordring and Katie Umekubo prepare a juvenile clapper rail for transport to Point Mugu.  August 2008/USFWS
Connie Woordring and Katie Umekubo prepare a juvenile clapper rail for transport to Point Mugu. August 2008/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a
Chantel Jimenez, Brian Collins, and Charles Gailband on the lookout for juvenile clapper rails in the Chula Vista Nature Center's clapper rail enclosure area.  August 2008/USFWS
Chantel Jimenez, Brian Collins, and Charles Gailband on the lookout for juvenile clapper rails in the Chula Vista Nature Center's clapper rail enclosure area. August 2008/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a
Chantel Jimenez and Charles Gailband gently picking up a juvenile clapper rail.  August 2008/USFWS
Chantel Jimenez and Charles Gailband gently picking up a juvenile clapper rail. August 2008/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a

by Jane Hendron, Carlsbad FWO
On August 22, 2008, staff and volunteers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), the City of Chula Vista’s Nature Center (Nature Center), and SeaWorld San Diego prepared a group of 20 juvenile Light-footed clapper rails (Rallus longirostris levipes) for release into the wild at Point Mugu, California.  The Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was the last stopover for the clapper rails that were bred and reared at the Nature Center, SeaWorld San Diego, and the Zoological Society of San Diego’s Wild Animal Park. 

Native to coastal marsh habitats in southern California and northern Baja California, Mexico, the Light-footed clapper rail was listed as endangered in 1973 due to the loss and fragmentation of its habitat.  In 1997, the Service initiated a recovery program for the clapper rails in cooperation with the Nature Center, SeaWorld San Diego and independent ornithologists.  Early recovery efforts focused on developing a captive breeding protocol for propagation of clapper rails, and enhancing demographic and genetic variability within the remaining populations in southern California. 

In 2001, the partnership launched its captive breeding program with two pairs of Light-footed clapper rails taken from the largest remaining wild population in California at Newport Bay.  Today, the Nature Center, located on Sweetwater Marsh NWR, SeaWorld San Diego and the Wild Animal Park all house breeding pairs of clapper rails. 

Experts at the captive breeding facilities monitor the diet, behavior, growth rates and health of the clapper rails.  Light-footed clapper rails in the breeding program incubate and rear their chicks naturally, but excess eggs produced by the pairs are artificially incubated and reared by hand at SeaWorld San Diego.  Both the naturally raised and hand-reared fledgling clapper rails are transferred to pens at the Nature Center where they live in conditions that mimic their natural environment.  During the time in the pens, the fledglings are monitored to ensure they develop natural foraging and survival skills before they are released to the wild. 

To date, 200 captive-bred Light-footed clapper rails have been released into various coastal marshes of southern California as part of this recovery effort.  This recovery effort is bearing fruit as the clapper rail population demonstrates positive growth.  In 2007, a total of 443 pairs of Light-footed clapper rails exhibited breeding behavior in nineteen southern California marshes; the largest breeding population detected since the counts began in 1980. 

Because clapper rails are largely non-migratory are almost entirely dependent on salt marsh habitat they are seen by many experts as a focal species for the conservation and restoration of southern California wetlands.

In addition to the ongoing partnership among the Service, the Nature Center, SeaWorld San Diego, and the Wild Animal Park, bilateral recovery efforts with Mexico have begun with clapper rail population surveys in Baja California.

Contact Info: jane hendron, , jane_hendron@fws.gov