The light-footed Ridgway's rail is a hen-sized marsh bird that
is long-legged, long-toed, and approximately 14 inches long. It has a slightly
down-curved beak and a short, upturned tail. Males and females are identical in
plumage. Their cinnamon breast contrasts with the streaked plumage of the
grayish brown back and gray and white barred flanks.
The light-footed Ridgway's rail uses southern California
coastal salt marshes, lagoons, and their maritime environs. The birds nest in
the lower littoral zone of coastal salt marshes where dense stands of cordgrass
are present. They require shallow water
and mudflats for foraging, with adjacent higher vegetation for cover during
high water. It is believed that most salt marshes along the coastline at one
time supported Ridgway's rails. However,
recent census data indicate that less than 50% of the coastal wetlands in
California are currently occupied.
Southern California’s largest subpopulation of these rails, located in
the Upper Newport Bay, has been successfully reproducing since 1980. In
contrast, the second and third largest subpopulations at Tijuana Slough and
Seal Beach NWRs, are known to have undergone significant and episodic decreases
in their numbers. At Seal Beach,
predation by mammalian and avian predators has periodically reduced the rail
population. At Tijuana Slough, predation is also an important factor but the
closing of the river mouth and subsequent cordgrass die-off was an
environmental event that significantly affected the rail population present in
the estuary at the time.
Destruction of coastal wetlands in southern California has
been so extensive that many estuaries where light-footed Ridgway's rails were
once abundant have been reduced to remnants. Although salt marsh habitat loss,
degradation, and fragmentation are the leading threats to these rails, they are
also threatened by disturbance, diseases, contaminants, and predation by
non-native red foxes, feral cats, crows, and some raptors.
Despite all of these threats, the year 2016 was the highest
recorded population of the Light-footed Ridgway's rail at 646 pairs in 18 marshes
throughout Southern California.
2016 LFRR Census Report
Light-footedClapper Rail Study & Management Team
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Belding's savannah sparrow is a State and Federally protected bird. It is a rare subspecies of the Savannah sparrow, however it is common on the marshes of San Diego Bay, and the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. It is distinguished from the Savannah sparrow by having heavier and darker streaking, and a smaller beak profile.