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Species Guide
A photo of a Clapper Rail (Rallus crepitans)
Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail

Rallus crepitans

The Clapper Rail (Rallus crepitans) is a sizable member of the rail family, Rallidae, exhibiting a predominantly grayish-brown plumage with a paler chestnut breast. Both sexes share a similar appearance. The species is characterized by a slightly downward-curving bill, which is more vividly orange-yellow at the base in males compared to the more subdued hue in females. This chicken-sized bird, typically measuring 32–41 cm in length and weighing between 199–400 g, is a rather secretive creature that seldom takes to flight.

Identification Tips

To identify the Clapper Rail, look for its large size relative to other rails, with a length of 13–16 inches. The bird's plumage is a muted grayish-brown, complemented by a paler chestnut breast. The bill is a notable feature, curving slightly downwards, and is more brightly colored in males. When observing these birds, note their preference for remaining concealed within their marshy habitats, making sightings a rewarding challenge for the keen observer.


The Clapper Rail is a saltmarsh specialist, thriving in the dense vegetation of coastal wetlands. These birds are highly adapted to this environment, where they can be found skulking among the reeds and rushes.


This species is resident along the Atlantic coasts of the eastern United States, the Gulf of Mexico, eastern Mexico, and some Caribbean islands. It extends southward through eastern Central America and is known to inhabit several inland locales as well.


Clapper Rails exhibit a high degree of mobility across their range. Females show weak philopatry, meaning they do not strongly tend to return to their birthplace to breed. Males display no philopatry, indicating they do not return to their birthplace at all.


The diet of the Clapper Rail consists of crustaceans, aquatic insects, and small fish. These birds forage by walking and occasionally probing with their long bills in shallow water or mud, searching for their prey.


Breeding Clapper Rails construct a large platform nest made of dry grasses, typically placed on the ground amidst dense vegetation. Clutch sizes can range from 4 to 16 eggs, with an average of 9. The eggs are creamy white with irregular blotches and are incubated for 20 days by both parents. The male takes on the night shift. After hatching, the young are brooded for several days and reach independence at 6 weeks of age, with the ability to fly developing at around 10 weeks.

Conservation Status

The Clapper Rail is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. While populations are stable on the East Coast of the U.S., there has been a decline in numbers due to habitat loss.

Similar Species

The Clapper Rail was once considered conspecific with the Mangrove Rail (Rallus longirostris). However, they are now treated as separate species. When comparing the two, the Clapper Rail is generally found in salt marshes, while the Mangrove Rail inhabits mangrove swamps.

Diet and Feeding

The Clapper Rail's feeding habits involve walking through shallow waters or mudflats, probing for food with its long bill. It primarily consumes crustaceans, aquatic insects, and small fish, which make up the bulk of its diet.

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Clapper Rail Fun Facts

Did you know?
Clapper Rails have a special gland that allows them to be able to drink sea water.
Did you know?
Clapper Rail's eggs can surivive being submerged in water during high tide.

Clapper Rails on Birda


More Rails, Crakes & Coots

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