Light-footed Ridgway's Rail

Rallus obsoletus levipes
Light-footed clapper rail

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. This rail has been reclassified taxonomically and renamed by the American Ornithologist Union, ascribed to the Light-footed Ridgway’s Rail, Rallus obsoletus levipes, and is now formally recognized by wildlife agencies.

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 clapper 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 2014 was the highest recorded population of the Light-footed Ridgway's rail at 528 pairs in 21 marshes throughout Southern California.

 

Helpful links:

 

FWS Species Profile

Light-footed Clapper Rail Study & Management Team

Facts About Light-footed Ridgway's Rail

Status: Endangered
 
Date Listed: October 13, 1970
 
Distribution: Southern California and Mexico
 
Length: 14.5"
 
Wingspan: 19"
 
Weight: 10 ounces