Clapper rail

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Clapper rail
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Genus: Rallus
R. crepitans
Binomial name
Rallus crepitans
JF Gmelin, 1789

The clapper rail (Rallus crepitans) is a member of the rail family, Rallidae. The taxonomy for this species is confusing and still being determined. It is a large brown rail that is resident in wetlands along the Atlantic coasts of the eastern United States, eastern Mexico and some Caribbean islands. This species was formerly considered to be conspecific with the mangrove rail.

South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center - Texas


The clapper rail was formally described in 1789 by the German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in his revised and expanded edition of Carl Linnaeus's Systema Naturae. He placed it with all the other rails in the genus Rallus and coined the binomial name Rallus crepitans.[2] Gmelin based his description on those by Thomas Pennant and John Latham.[3][4] The type locality is Long Island, New York.[5] The genus Rallus had been erected in 1758 by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae.[6] The specific epithet crepitans is Latin meaning "breaking wind" or "resounding".[7]

The clapper rail was formerly treated as a subspecies of the mangrove rail (Rallus longirostris).[5] The decision to treat the clapper rail as a separate species was based on the results of a molecular phylogenetic study that was published in 2013.[8][9][10] A cladogram based on the 2013 genetic study is as follows:[8]

Virginia rail (Rallus limicola)

Ridgway's rail (Rallus obsoletus)

Aztec rail (Rallus tenuirostris)

Mangrove rail (Rallus longirostris)

King rail (Rallus elegans)

Clapper rail (Rallus crepitans)

Eight subspecies of the clapper rail are recognised:[10]


The clapper rail is a chicken-sized bird that rarely flies. It is grayish brown with a pale chestnut breast. Males and females have similar plumage. The bill which curves slightly downwards is orange yellow at the base in males and duller in females. An adult bird has an overall length of 32–41 cm (13–16 in) and weighs 199–400 g (7.0–14.1 oz).[11]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The clapper rail is found along the Atlantic coasts of the eastern U.S., the Gulf of Mexico, eastern Mexico, some Caribbean islands, and south through eastern Central America, as well at several inland locales. Populations are stable on the East Coast of the U.S., although the numbers of this bird have declined due to habitat loss. Clapper rails are saltmarsh specialists, and are highly mobile across their range, with females showing weak philopatry and a lack of philopatry in males.[12]

Clapper rail in Lakeland, Florida.



These birds eat crustaceans, aquatic insects, and small fish. They search for food while walking, sometimes probing with their long bills, in shallow water or mud.[11]


The nest is a large platform of dry grasses and is usually placed on the ground in dense vegetation. The clutch size varies between 4 and 16 eggs with an average of 9. The eggs measure 42.5 mm × 30 mm (1.67 in × 1.18 in) and are creamy white with irregular blotches of reddish-brown, grey or lilac. They are incubated for 20 days by both parents with the male incubating at night. The young are brooded by the adults for several days. They become independent of the adults when 6 weeks old and can fly when 10 weeks old.[11]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Rallus crepitans". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T62155296A132306811. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T62155296A132306811.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ Gmelin, Johann Friedrich (1789). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae : secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1, Part 2 (13th ed.). Lipsiae [Leipzig]: Georg. Emanuel. Beer. p. 713.
  3. ^ Pennant, Thomas (1785). Arctic Zoology. Vol. 2. London, United Kingdom: Printed by Henry Hughs. p. 407; Plate 20.
  4. ^ Latham, John (1785). A General Synopsis of Birds. Vol. 3, Part 1. London: Printed for Leigh and Sotheby. p. 229, No. 2.
  5. ^ a b Peters, James Lee, ed. (1934). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 157.
  6. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae:Laurentii Salvii. p. 153.
  7. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 121. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  8. ^ a b Maley, J.M.; Brumfield, R.T. (2013). "Mitochondrial and next-generation sequence data used to infer phylogenetic relationships and species limits in the Clapper/King Rail complex". The Condor. 115 (2): 316–329. doi:10.1525/cond.2013.110138.
  9. ^ Chesser, R.T.; Banks, R.C.; Cicero, C.; Dunn, J.L.; Kratter, A.W.; Lovette, I.J.; Navarro-Sigüenza, A.G.; Rasmussen, P.C.; Remsen, J.V.J.; Rising, J.D.; Stotz, D.F.; Winker, K. (2014). "Fifty-fifth supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds". The Auk. 131 (4): CSi–CSxv. doi:10.1642/AUK-14-124.1.
  10. ^ a b Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (August 2022). "Flufftails, finfoots, rails, trumpeters, cranes, limpkin". IOC World Bird List Version 12.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 11 October 2022.
  11. ^ a b c Rush, S.A.; Gaines, K.F.; Eddleman, W.R.; Conway, C.J. (2020). Rodewald, P.G. (ed.). "Clapper Rail (Rallus crepitans), version 1.0". Birds of the World. Ithaca, NY, USA: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 11 October 2022.
  12. ^ Coster, S.S.; Welsh, A.B.; Costanzo, G.; Harding, S.R.; Anderson, J.T.; Katzner, T.E. (2019). "Gene flow connects coastal populations of a habitat specialist, the Clapper Rail Rallus crepitans". Ibis. 161 (1): 66–78. doi:10.1111/ibi.12599.