|Date Listed: October 13, 1970
|Distribution: Southern California and Mexico
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. Althoughhabitat 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.