U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sacramento Fish & Wildlife OfficeServing the people, conserving the fish, wildlife, and plants of California

A Unit Of The Pacific Southwest Region

Kids' Species Information

California Clapper Rail

California Clapper Rail


Endangered. "Endangered" means that we are afraid a species may become extinct.


The California Clapper Rail is one of the largest rails. It is 32-47 cm from the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail. (13-19 inches) It looks like chicken with a long, slightly downward-curving bill. Its upper parts are olive-brown. Its breast is cinnamon-buff colored.

Clapper rails are secretive. They are hard to see in dense vegetation. (See photo above) Once flushed, they can frequently be approached.

When evading discovery, clapper rails typically freeze, hide in small sloughs or under overhangs. They may run rapidly through vegetation or along slough bottoms.

Clapper rails prefer to walk or run rather than fly or swim. When flushed, they normally fly only a short distance before landing. They can swim well. But they only swim to cross sloughs or escape threats at high tide.

Clapper rails are most active in early morning and late evening. They forage in marsh vegetation in and along creeks and mudflat edges. They often roost at high tide during the day.


Mostly things like mussels, crabs and clams.


Salty and brackish water marshes with pickleweed and cordgrass.


The marshes of San Francisco estuary. In south San Francisco Bay, there are populations in all of the larger tidal marshes. Distribution in the North Bay is patchy. Small populations are widely distributed in the San Pablo Bay and Suisun Marsh.


The breeding season begins by February. Nesting starts in mid-March and extends into August. Clutch sizes range from 5 to 14 eggs. Both parents share in incubation and rearing.


The places where the rails can live have become more broken up. This makes it easier for predators like the non-native red fox and feral cats to catch rails.


There are many things you can do to protect birds. Here is some information on migratory bird conservation. It is about migratory song birds. But much of it applies to all birds.

Keep your cat inside. Cats kill millions of birds per year. Even well-fed cats kill birds. It is just their nature to hunt. Living indoors is also much safer for the cats themselves.

When you go to the beach, pay attention to signs warning you that birds are nesting. Many shore birds nest right on the beach. They are easily disturbed. Don't let your dog chase or bark at them.

Whenever you go to natural areas, observe any signs telling you how to protect wildlife and plants.

See What You Can Do to Help Wildlife and Plants (201 KB PDFB) for more ideas.


You may be able to see a CA Clapper Rail if you go to the San Francisco or San Pablo Bay. Wherever you live, you can watch birds. See the American Birding Association's Young Birders' Home Page

The California Clapper Rail can be seen at the following National Wildlife Refuges


Thelander, C. ed. 1994. Life on the edge: a guide to California's endangered natural resources. BioSystem Books. Santa Cruz, CA. p 158-59.

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge brochure (4.1 MB PDF). It has a great picture of the CA Clapper Rail.

Albertson, Joy. 1996. Restoring salt marsh habitat for the recovery of California clapper rails. Tideline. Vol 16 No. 4 1-3.

Photo Credit: Mike Boyland, USFWS.

Words to Learn

Scientists who study birds are called ornithologists.

Biologists call the CA Clapper Rail Rallus longirostris obsoletus. Scientific names are in Latin or Greek.

Pelicans are in the Rallidae (rail) family.

The common names of bird species are capitalized. So we write California Clapper Rail. But if you are writing about rails in g eneral, you should use lower case. Learn more from this Wikipedia article.

See a basic bird diagram (483 KB PDF).

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Last updated: November 29, 2017