Light-footed Clapper Rails become Ridgway’s Rails
This has to do with a split in species. California’s three subspecies of Rallus longirostris (Clapper Rails) recently became subspecies of Rallus obsoletus, which is given the English name Ridgway’s Rail. It has three subspecies: yumanensis (Colorado River area), levipes (southern California), and nominate obsoletus, (San Francisco Bay area).
So the birds you see in San Diego County marshes are now Rallus obsoletus levipes or the levipes subspecies of Ridgway’s (formerly Clapper) Rail. LCDC will be referring to them as Light-footed Ridgway’s Rails. We have one in our Shorebird Aviary that doesn’t care what you call it.
Confused yet? Here are a few things that haven’t changed: Ridgway’s Rails (like the former Clapper Rail) are no less endangered; they are still birds with rail thin legs who live in marshes and make nests of Eelgrass; and their call still sounds like clapping. The new common name refers to ornithologist Robert Ridgway who was so revered in the community that modern ornithologists still say, half-jokingly, “rule number one is: Ridgway was right.”
You can see Ridgway’s Rails at the Living Coast Discovery Center, in the Shorebird Aviary and, if you’re lucky, on one of our wild birding adventures. Our birding tours depart the Living Coast Front Desk at various times on weekends, and are included with admission. The best explanation of the name change comes from Dave Quady and the Golden Gate Audubon Society, which you can read here: Farewell Clapper Rail, hello Ridgway’s Rail.