Wild Birds

Clapper Rails

The Clapper Rails (Rallus longirostris) are chicken-like marshbirds that occur naturally in North America south to northern South America.

Within their range, they are regionally referred to as Light-footed Rails, Long-billed Clapper Rails, Marsh or Mud Hen, or Salt Marsh Clapper Rails.

Some authorities (such as the Checklist of Birds of the World, 2:159, 1934) treat the western Clapper Rails as races of the very similar King Rails. There are arguments for and against this theory. They do share many physical similarities and are known to interbreed in areas where their ranges meet.

However, the Clapper Rails show a definite preference for saltwater marshes, and the King Rails typically frequent freshwater habitats. DNA tests to verify their relationship have so far been inconclusive.

Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris)

Distribution / Habitat

The Clapper Rails occur naturally in North American south to northern South America and some Caribbean islands.

In North America, their range stretches from central California to Texas and along the east coast up to Massachusetts.

From the United States, their range stretches south along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts through Mexico and some Caribbean islands to northwestern Peru and Suriname in South America.

These rails inhabit coastal / saltwater marshes and mangrove swamps.

Subspecies and Ranges

Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris)


The Clapper Rail is about the size of a chicken, measuring about 12.6 – 16.1 inches (32 – 41 cm) in length and weighing 5.6 – 14.1 oz (160 – 400 g).

The plumage is grey-brown above and pale cinnamon below, with brownish-grey cheeks, flanks that are barred with black and white, and a noticeable white patch under the short tail.

The orangey, long bill has a slight down-curved

Immature Description

Young chicks are covered in black down. Juveniles look like adults, but their markings are more indistinct, with more variable amounts of black on the sides

Similar Species

  • King Rail: Plumage more reddish, fare more rusty. More distinct flank stripes.
  • Virginia Rail: Smaller in size. The plumage is bright reddish. Bill is more brightly colored.
Clapper Rail Study

Diet / Feeding

Their diet mostly consists of small fish, aquatic insects, seeds, bird eggs, and slugs. Foraging is usually done in shallow water or mud sometimes probing with their long bills. These birds rarely fly, usually seen walking around as they search for food.

Breeding / Nesting

Clapper Rail usually places their twig nests low in mangrove roots. The eggs are cream-colored with purplish spots. The average clutch consists of 3 – 7 eggs. The hatchlings are covered in black down and can leave the nests within one day. Both parents feed and guard the young until they are independent.

Calls / Vocalizations / Sounds

Their calls are described as low grunts.

Calls / Vocalizations

Alternate (Global) Names

Chinese: ???? … Czech: Chrástal dlouhozobý, ch?ástal dlouhozobý … Danish: Klapperrikse … Dutch: Klapperral … Estonian: klaperruik (rand-klaperruik) … Finnish: Amerikanluhtakana, räikkäluhtakana … French: Rle à crécelle, Rle gris … German: Klapperralle … Guadeloupean Creole French: Pintade … Haitian Creole French: Rato … Italian: Porciglione americano, Rallo beccolungo … Japanese: onikuina … Norwegian: Klaprerikse … Polish: wodnik dlugodzioby, wodnik d?ugodzioby … Portuguese: saracura-gritadeira, Saracura-matraca, saracura-sanã-dos-mangues, Saracura-saña-dos-mangues … Russian: ???????????? ????????, ????????-??????? … Slovak: chriaštel dlhozobý, Chriaštel’ dlhozobý, chriašte? dlhozobý … Spanish: Gallinuela de Manglar, Gallinuela de Mangle, Pollo de Manglar, Pollo de Mangle, Rascón de Pico Largo, Rascón Manglero, Rascón Picudo, Rascón Piquilargo … Swedish: Kustrall


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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