Are Ridgway’s Rails Travelers?



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A science team studies how these endangered birds may move across Southern California’s salt marsh lagoons.

San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is home to a secretive bird that lives among the lagoon’s saltmarsh grasses. You can see these endangered Ridgway’s Rails from the trail, usually when they forage in the mudflats. Our population attracts scientists from all over, including Kim Sawyer, a graduate student at University of Idaho.

Kim is here to study whether Ridgway’s Rails are moving among Southern California wetlands. This project is in collaboration with U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), whose research conducts genetic analyses of Rails in our region to monitor species diversity.

L-R: Heather Parsons (University of Idaho), Amy Vandergast (USGS), Kim Sawyer (University of Idaho), Julia Smith (USGS)

Kim and her team of USGS scientists look for Ridgway’s in dense patches of California cord grass – their preferred habitat. To attract these curious birds, Kim plays a variety of Rail calls on a speaker.

Kim Sawyer, University of Idaho, looks for Ridgway’s Rails (Rallus obsoletus levipes) in San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve.

With a blend of patience and anticipation, Kim’s team members await to see a Ridgway’s Rail emerge from the cord grass and head toward the sound. The bird is quickly and gently banded for identification. The team collects DNA samples while taking measurements of the bird before releasing it back into the lagoon.

“They have a lot of personality. They are definitely really curious birds,” says Kim Sawyer. “It’s been incredibly special to be out in the field and see them up close.”

This project will reveal population changes among Ridgway’s Rails in Southern California, providing much-needed information to support the growth of the species. Nature Collective is honored to partner with research scientists and students which encourages more interest in protecting nature.

Nature Collective exists to drive a passion for nature, for all. We believe that if we help people discover a passion for nature, they will want to protect and value everything it has to offer.

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