California Ridgway's Rail
Formerly California Clapper Rail

Ridgway's Rail, Peter Johnson, USFWS
Ridgway's Rail, Peter Johnson (More photos)


California Ridgway's Rail was listed as California Clapper Rail, Rallus longirostris obsoletus. It is now Rallus obsoletus obsoletus


The California Ridgway's 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.

ridgway's rail, usfws
Carmen Thomas, USFWS

Rails are secretive. They are hard to see in dense vegetation. (See photo left) Once flushed, they can frequently be approached. When evading discovery, rails typically freeze, hide in small sloughs or under overhangs. They may run rapidly through vegetation or along slough bottoms.

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. 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.

FOOD

Mostly things like mussels, crabs and clams.

rigdway's rail nest, usfws
Carmen Thomas, USFWS

MATING

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.

HABITAT

Salty and brackish water marshes with pickleweed and cordgrass.

Ridgway's rail, USGS
USGS Photo

RANGE

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.

THREATS

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.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP BIRDS

There are many things you can do to protect birds. Visit our national pages on migratory bird conservation. See What You Can Do to Help Wildlife and Plants (PDF) for more ideas.

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.