Dark April nights bring home the Clapper Rails

April 21, 2019



With dark April nights, the Clapper Rail returns. Listen for the gah-gah-gah in the salt marshes for the hard to find host. The Clapper Rail, just as regularly as geese, are coming northward to the salt marshes of Cape Henlopen and the eastern shore, to their breeding grounds, building level platform nest with dried reeds and grass in the low bushes in the marshlands, where the hen lays up to sixteen lavender splotched eggs.

Clapper Rail's are colony birds and winter south of New Jersey and spend summers in marshes from North Carolina to Connecticut.  Seldom mentioned in sport's and hunting magazines, they are good game birds, the
bird watchers are most interested in them too. They are larger than quail or woodcock, smaller than grouse or pheasant, almost the size of a chicken fryer, sixteen inches from the tip of a dusky yellow bill to the dusky green end of its toe.

Brownish gray on top, lighter below, with spots of olive and match the marsh grass where they live. The just-hatched chicks are jet glossy black, look like bantam chicks.
The 'clapper' part of its name is not hard to figure out, a noisy bird it is- delights to break early morning and evening stillness with its crackles, mostly done by the males to impress the hens laying eggs.

They eat what they can find, tiny crustacean, tender marsh grass seedlings, insects. Enemies are fish hawks, march rats, high tide and soft crab seekers. They learn early to run like hell as long as you can, then hide. The Clapper Rail can outrun any track star, including Jessie Ownes. They are near imposable to 'flush out' for they are master hiders.

The hunting season for rails is September and usually done by boat at high tides, and best after a hard easterly gale when the marsh is filled with water with no place to run. The Clapper Rail is not fast on a winged flight. Running is the Clapper Rail's game. On a low tide and a place to run they ask no odds from man, dog or devil. Their best dogs cannot pin a clapper down. When hard pressed they light in water, submerge, and crawl ashore hundreds of yards away, out of sight to the baffled hunter.

Abstract: Sunday, April 18, 1938, Baltimore Sunday Sun, by Lee G. Crutchfield.