Saturday, December 8, 2012

An encounter with a 'Cling Rail?'

Last weekend I was down in Dare County, NC with Jeff Pippen and a group of Duke graduate students when we saw this bird in the pond at the Bodie Island lighthouse.

Definitely a large rail...either a King or a Clapper, but which one?  If watch the video with your volume up, you can hear us trying to figure it out.

Of course the harsh back-light makes the bird look like a silhouette in the video, but through binoculars field marks were discernible.  And with heavy cropping and brightness enhancement, they even come out in the photos.

 Jeff and I called this bird a King Rail in the field because of the rusty orange on the chest and neck.

But the more I have shared these photos, the more different reactions I have received.
 Both Clapper and King rails are known to inhabit brackish marshes, so the habitat may not be much help in sorting out the ID.  And there are plenty of records on ebird for both species at this very pond.
So I'm curious as to what YOU would call this bird if you saw it at this spot and why.  A King Rail?  A Clapper Rail?  A 'Cling Rail?'*

Please post your opinions in the comments below or email them to me (scott dot winton at gmail dot com). Hopefully we can all learn something!

*If you would call it a 'Cling Rail,' please be specific about what you mean.  The term 'Cling Rail' gets used in two ways: 1) To refer to rails that we can't ID beyond Clapper/King because we don't have enough information (essentially, 'I can't tell from your crappy photos'); and 2) to refer to Clapper X King hybrids, which have been documented along the Gulf Coast, though I'm not sure how well we understand the frequency and extent of hybridization.


  1. Hi Scott,

    A great challenge! I am going with King Rail due to the bright contrast of the plumage on the belly. Also the white bars seem a bit wide compared to those on a the Clapper Rail. Additionally, the dark centers of the scapulars and uppertail coverts contrast nicely and neatly with lighter brown outer edges of those feathers. That neat streaking is not so clear in the Clapper Rail.

    Funny, I just posted a ID challenge to my Pluff Mud Perspectives blog:

    Check it out!