DESCRIPTION: Compact, short necked, and long legged. Dark brown streaks mark its olive brown back and wings, its breast is rusty cinnamon, and black-and-white bars criss-cross its flanks. Males and females are similar in appearance, and when fully grown, measure about 32-47 cm (1-1.5 ft) long.
HABITAT: Lives in coastal salt and brackish marshes and tidal sloughs. They mainly stay in the upper to lower zones of coastal salt marshes dominated by pickleweed and cordgrass: some of the birds live in coastal brackish marshes.
Present: Now known to occur only in San Fancisco Bay and Suisun Bay.
THREATS AND/OR REASONS FOR DECLINE: Before 1900, hunters reportedly killed thousands of clapper rails each week. Widespread urbanization and diking of wetlands led to destruction of marsh habitat. Only 15% of the original 181,000 acres of marshland along San Fancisco Bay remains today, and much of this is highly fragmented or altered. Habitat loss has also resulted form the dying out of marsh vegetation. Rail eggs have been found to harbor elevated levels of mercury, selenium, and other contaminants, probably because sewage effluent, industrial discharges, and urban runoff have contaminated the bird's food supply. Nonnative predators such as the red foxes, Norway rats, and feral cats prey on clapper rails and their eggs.
Historic: Found in tidal salt marshes and brackish marshes from Humbolt Bay in Humbolt County to Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County.
OTHER INFORMATION: The nonnative ribbed horse mussel journeyed to California from Japan during the early 1900s. The mussels hitched rides in the balast water of ships crossing the Pacific, and settled into the mud flats of California's coastal wetlands. The mussels have become a favorite food and a nemesis of the California clapper rail.
Life on the Edge. Biosystems Books 1994. Santa Cruz, California