Endangered Light-footed Ridgway’s Rails Successfully Released in San Diego County

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Media Contacts:
Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908
Nancy Frost, CDFW Wildlife, Fisheries and Lands Program, (858) 467-4208

Six light-footed Ridgway’s rails (previously known as light-footed clapper rails) were released into the Batiquitos Lagoon Ecological Reserve in San Diego County on Nov. 18.

A team of state, federal and zoological organizations called “Team Clapper Rail” made this release possible. The group has been dedicated to the recovery of this federal- and state-listed marsh bird for more than a decade.

Yesterday’s release consisted of five males and one female that will contribute genetic diversity to this highly endangered marsh bird population. A previous release was conducted in July with six birds.

“State Ecological Reserves are set aside for the conservation of threatened, rare and endangered species, making the Ridgway’s rail an ideal candidate for this property,” said CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist (Specialist) Nancy Frost. “For almost a decade, CDFW has supported numerous research and monitoring projects for this species as well as assisted with several other rail releases. We are more than proud to be part of their recovery.”

Thanks to Team Clapper Rail, the rail population has reached a record of 528 pairs in the wild. The team consists of staff at two breeding centers (SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park), along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Navy, the Living Coast Discovery Center, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Huntington Beach Wetlands-Conservancy.

The Ridgway’s rail is a grayish-brown, chicken-sized bird with a long, downward curving bill and a conspicuous whitish rump. The bird will only forage on mudflats or very shallow water (wetland habitat) where there is taller plant material nearby to provide protection at high tide. They rely on marsh plants such as cordgrass and pickleweed for breeding and feeding. They will also eat mussels, clams, snails, worms and small fish, which it retrieves by probing and scavenging the water’s surface while walking.

Once abundant in the Southern California wetlands, the light-footed Ridgway’s rail fell to near extinction in the 1980s as wetlands were altered or developed. Recent wetland restoration projects by CDFW and federal entities have made the reintroduction of the rails to Orange County possible as well.

The state-owned Batiquitos Lagoon is managed by CDFW and is one of the few remaining tidal wetlands on the Southern California coast. Located in the city of Carlsbad, it consists of 543 acres with a drainage basin of about 55,000 acres. It is home to several threatened and endangered birds, insects, plants, fish and mammals and is also designated a State Marine Conservation Area under the Marine Life Protection Act.