The status of the light-footed clapper rail

American Birds



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Only 12 California marsh areas are presently believed to be inhabited by the Light-footed Clapper Rail, and eight of these appear to support only 5-15 birds apiece. Tentative estimates for the other four are: Anaheim Bay 200, Upper Newport 30-35, Los Penasquitos 30, and Tijuana Estuary 150. These estimates, admittedly very rough, indicate a total Light-footed Rail population on only about 500 birds. Recognizing that rails are secretive and hard to inventory, the actual count could be somewhat higher, but I feel it is most unlikely that the number could be more than 750 birds altogether. Reductions in Light-footed Clapper Rail populations can be attributed almost entirely to loss of habitat. An estimated 26,000 acres of saltmarsh once existed between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border. At present there are approximately 8500 acres, much of which has been degraded by pollution, water diversion, and restriction of tidal flow. Of those areas currently occupied by Clapper Rails, few can be considered to have a very secure future. Of the four major areas only Anaheim Bay appears to be relatively safe from future habitat destruction. Tijuana Estuary, Los Penasquitos Lagoon, and Upper Newport Bay are all threatened by commercial developments that could reduce or destroy local rail populations. I have not visited Baja California, but I believe there is still a substantial population of Clapper Rails in the marshes around San Quintin Bay. Taxonomists do not agree on the subspecific identity of these birds, but some feel they are representatives of the Light-footed race. If so, it is fortunate to have a relatively secure (for now) reservoir of these birds, but whether the Light-footed Clapper Rail survives within the United States may well be decided within the next few years.

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Journal Article
The status of the light-footed clapper rail
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American Birds
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Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
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Journal Article
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American Birds
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