Six endangered light-footed Ridgway’s rails were released into San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge this week! For decades, a team has been working to bring this secretive marsh bird species back from the brink.
Getting the Data
One way the team is working toward a genetically strong population of light-footed Ridgway’s rails, is by monitoring them through satellite telemetry. Five of the released birds were custom-fitted with a transmitter that will send data using satellite technology. This information allows scientists and land managers to follow the movements of these endangered birds.
It may sound straightforward, but a few challenges make it tricky to track the birds. First, they are extremely hard to see within the cordgrass vegetation -- think, “thin as a rail.” Second, when the tracking device eventually comes off the bird when it has deceased, it’s next to impossible to retrieve with the tides going in and out twice per day.
Despite the difficulties, it’s critical for the team to retrieve data regarding the movement of these birds.
This week, one of the light-footed Ridgway's rails is fitted with a tracking device by Lisa Cox, USFWS.
What Their Activity Tells Us
These days, it’s common for light-footed Ridgway’s rails to spend their entire lives in one coastal marshland (like South San Diego Bay). But that hasn’t always been the case.
Before the species became endangered, the birds traveled to other marshes and intermingled with other rails. This strengthened their genetic diversity.
Today there are hundreds of acres of new habitat (due to wetland restoration projects). The team is looking to understand how the birds use the improved wetlands and if it impacts their activity.
The hope is to see the birds moving to neighboring wetlands. This would indicate a beginning of recovery for the species and a sign that we’re keeping our coastal ecosystems healthy.
The tracking device on one of the rails by Lisa Cox, USFWS.
Steps Toward Recovery
When monitoring began in 1980, the population was down to 200 breeding pairs. That number is now up to 656 pairs. The news is positive and inspires continued work toward recovery for the species. Next spring, there could be new sounds of duetting rails pairing up in the restored marshes of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.