Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] Clapper Rail, Rallus longirostris, photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]

Image: Joseph Kennedy, 26 May 2010 [larger view].

Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope with TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/640s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

How to distinguish Clapper Rails from other, similar species:

  1. King Rail is slightly larger than Clapper Rail, prefers freshwater marshes while Clapper Rail prefers coastal brackish/saltwater marshes. Unlike the more grayish Clapper Rail, King Rail has rust or red-brown colored head, neck and underparts, and more sharply defined bars on flanks. Voices also differ. [Note however, King and Clapper rails occasionally interbreed in the wild, and thus, some scientists think of them as being the same species]
  2. Virginia Rail is smaller than Clapper Rail, with distinctive gray cheeks and chestnut-brown back. Virginia Rail has orangish-brown legs and feet while Clapper Rail has grey legs and feet. Virginia Rail prefers inland freshwater marshes while Clapper Rail prefers coastal brackish/saltwater marshes. Voices also differ.

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 psweet
    May 31, 2010

    Noone going to say anything? The bill puts this into the genus Rallus — Anahuac is on the coast, and I can’t find anything in the photo to give the precise habitat, so all three N.Am. species are in play. I’ll leave it at that for now.

  2. #2 Vince Morales
    May 31, 2010

    GREAT RED-BREASTED RAIL, Rallus elegans, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 27. (aka Marsh Hen).
    Common in southeast Louisiana where I live.

  3. #3 psweet
    June 1, 2010

    I’m inclined to think that this is R. longirostris, since elegans and limicola should both have tawny edges to the back feathers, instead of the gray showing here.

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