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Ridgway's Rail - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by Marysan
Imperial Beach, California, USA, 12 December 2004
Rallus obsoletus


A large rail with a long, slender and slightly decurved bill.

  • 35–40 cm (13¾-15¾ in) in length, male average 20% larger than female
  • Dark brown forehead to nape
  • Dark brown upperparts with dark brown centers of feathers
  • White chin and throat
  • Ochraceous buff underparts, rufous breast
  • Flanks with contrasting white bars with dusky or black bars


Breeds from central California through Mexico.


Formerly included in Clapper Rail.


Four subspecies recognized1:

  • R. o. obsoletus - Northern California (Humboldt Bay to Monterey Bay)
  • R. o. levipes - Southern California (Santa Barbara) to Baja California (Scammons Lagoon)
  • R. o. yumanensis - Salton Sea and Colorado River basin to western Mexico (Nayarit)
  • R. o. beldingi - Western Mexico (southern Baja from Magdalena Bay to Espírito Santo Island


Grassy marches and mangroves.



These birds eat crustaceans, aquatic insects and small fish. They search for food while walking, sometimes probing with their long bills, in shallow water or mud.

This bird is rarely seen flying, which is reflected in the many subspecies found across its range. However, the north east populations in the US are migratory, wintering more southerly along the Atlantic coast.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Gill, F & D Donsker (Eds). 2018. IOC World Bird List (v8.2). doi : 10.14344/IOC.ML.8.2. Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/
  3. Birdforum thread discussing the taxonomy of Clapper Rail
  4. del Hoyo, J., Collar, N. & Christie, D.A. (2018). Ridgway's Rail (Rallus obsoletus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/467247 on 24 December 2018).
  5. Eddleman, W. R. and C. J. Conway (2018). Ridgway's Rail (Rallus obsoletus), version 2.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.ridrai1.02.1
  6. Morlan, J. 2017. California Ridgway’s Rails Imperiled by Spartina Removal. Sequoia Audubon Society Bulletin 68(1):1 PDF

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