SciSun: Clap On, Clap Off   Leave a comment

Remember those California Clapper Rails (Rallus longirostris obsoletus) from a few weeks ago, the shorebirds that decided it’s just fine to live among invasive species? Today we may have discovered why the Clappers never clapped, or seemed that excited about most anything – the birds, it appears, aren’t really Clappers! Although they are Rails; which could help some of them get past the personal identity issues they might have, but probably still won’t get them to clap. They’re just really not that enthusiastic a bird.

There are a lot of Rail-birds (not to be confused with jail-birds) throughout the world. On America’s East Coast are two species: King Rails, and the more authentically-named Clapper Rail. When bird-watchers came West (they prefer ‘bird-enthusiasts‘. Which means they’re probably more excited to see the birds, then the birds are to see them), they found Rail-birds that looked very familiar, so they assumed these were just the same old Clapper Rails as on the East Coast, but now, also found in California, so the birders checked them off their list and moved on to something more exciting. And for almost a century and a half, these birds have been known as California Clapper Rails.

But to some scientists, these California Clappers just didn’t seem right – or at least, not right as-in it’s the same bird as the Eastern Clapper. Just by observing and measuring and recording behavior it was impossible to establish just what bird was what; until recently, when genetic testing confirmed these are, in fact, different species. And so was found Ridgeway’s rail (Rallus obsoletus), named after the scientist who first described the birds 140 years ago. If only people would have believed him at the time it would have saved everyone a lot of work later. And the California Rails wouldn’t have been so confused.


“It appears we are now named 'Ridgeway'”.                                                                        “Odd.  I would have preferred 'Thunderbolt'”.

“It appears we are now named ‘Ridgeway’”. “Odd. I would have preferred ‘Thunderbolt’”.

You might be thinking all this classifying and reclassifying and naming and re-naming is quite a lot of trouble and effort for just one type of shorebird, even if it is endangered. Yet it isn’t the birds or other animals that need humans to tell them who they are – it’s humans, ourselves, who need ways to identify and classify and label so we can start to understand what other life surrounds us and shares the world. Maybe by putting names on even the smallest sub-species and populations helps us recognize the worth of every species; that each is unique and all deserve a chance to live and thrive. Even if it’s not the birds that are confused about their place on the planet, but more often, it’s us.


Michonne Says: If the men didn’t know what type of birds those Rail-birds are, then the men should have asked. Most birds are always ready to talk about most anything. Except geese. They are usually in bad moods. I don’t know why.

Posted November 2, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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