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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America

Plate XIX. The clapper rail. (Rallus crepitans.),   pp. 19-20

Page 19

CLAPPER RAIL.                 19~~~~
Their food consists of different kinds of insects, their eggs and
larva, and also of nuts and berries. It is principally gathered from
trees. For their young, they chiefly pick up small caterpillars.
They are very useful in forests and orchards, as they destroy the
insects that infest the trees. Frequently, after a few hard raps with
their bills on a small limb, they run round to the opposite side to
Dick up the insects that the jarring has started out. The male and
female alternately sit on the eggs, and the young break out of the
shell in fourteen or sixteen days. They are at first helpless and
deformed, but are most tenderly taken care off by their parents,
who, when there is any seeming danger, wail piteously and never
leave the nest. For a long time after the young are fully fledged,
they are guarded and fed by the parents until perfectly able to find
their own food and take care of themselves. The male and fe-
male birds are alike in color, except that the female lacks the red
on the hind head, and the white below is tinged with brown. The
name of Hairy Woodpecker is doubtless bestowed upon this bird
on account of the white lateral spot on the back, composed of loose
feathers resembling hair. This bird usually utters a loud tremu-
lous cry in starting off, and when alighting.  When mortally
wounded it will hang by the claws, even of a single foot, while a
spark of life remains.
The Clapper Rail. (Rallus crepitans.)
Fig. x.
The Clapper Rail, designated by different names, such as the
Mud Hen, Meadow Clapper, Big Rail, and several others, is a
well-known and very numerous species, inhabiting the whole At-
lantic coast from Florida to New England, and probably still -more
northward. Although they chiefly inhabit the salt-marshes, these
birds are occasionally found on the swampy shores and tide waters
of our large rivers, as well as on the lakes. They, as well as
other rails, are birds of passage, arriving on the coasts the latter
part of April, and leaving late in September. They have been
observed in great numbers at the mouth of the Savannah river, in
the months of January and February, and it is therefore very prob-
able that some of them winter in the marshes of Georgia and Flor-
ida. They are often heard to cry while on their spring migrations,
pretty high up in the air, generally a little before day-break. The
shores, within the beach, consisting of large extents of flat marsh
overgrown with rank and reedy grass or rushes, occasionally over-
flowed by the sea, by which they are cut into numberless small
islands with narrow inlets, are the favorite breeding-places of the
Clapper Rails, which are found there in double the number of all
other marsh-birds.
The arrival of the Clapper Rail is announced by his loud, harsh,
and incessant crackling, which bears a strong resemblance to that of
the Guinea-fowl. It is generally heard during the night, and is
greatest before a storm. Toward the middle of May the Clapper Rails
begin to construct their nests and lay their eggs. They drop their
first egg in a cavity lined with only a little dry grass, to which is
gradually added, as the number of eggs increases, more and more
grass, so that by the time the number of eggs reaches the full com-
plqment, usually nine or ten, the nest has attained a height of ten or
fourteen inches. The reason for building the nest so high is doubt-
less to secure them from the rising of the tides. The large rank
marsh-grass is skillfully arched over the nest, and knit at the top, in
order to conceal the nest from view, and afford shelter against heavy
rains; but instead of concealing the nest, it enables the experi-
enced egg-hunter to find it more easily, for he can distinguish the
spot when it is at a distance of from thirty to forty yards, although
an unpracticed eye would not be able to discern it at all. The eggs
are of a pale clay color, sprinkled over with numerous small spots
or dots of a dark red. They measure fully an inch and a half in
length by one inch in breadth, and are obtuse at the small end.
They are considered exquisite food, far surpassing the eggs of the
domestic hen. The proper time for collecting these eggs is about
the beginning of June. The nests are so abundant, and some per-
sons are so skilled in finding them, that sometimes from forty to
fifty dozen are collected in one day by a single individual.
The Crows, Minks, and other animals hunt their eggs and de-
stroy, not only a great number of them, but many of the birds
also. Heaps of bones, feathers, wings, and eggs of the Clap-
per Rail are often found near the holes of Minks, bv which these
animals themselves are in turn detected, driven out, and killed.
The poor Clapper Rails are subjected to another calamity of a
more serious and disastrous nature. It happens sometimes, after
the greater part of the eggs are laid, that a violent northeast storm
arises, and drives the sea into the bay; overflowing the marshes,
and destroying all the nests and eggs. Besides, vast numbers of the
birds perish, as the water rushes in suddenly, and the birds being
entangled are unable to extricate themselves in time to escape
drowning. Hundreds of these birds may be seen at such timc:
floating over the marshes in great distress, a few only escaping to
the mainland. On such occasions great numbers may sometimes be
seen in a single meadow, bewildered and not trying to conceal
themselves; while the bodies of female birds that perished in their
nests are washed to the shore, with scarcely a male among the
dead bodies. After such an occurrence the birds go to work again
as soon as the water subsides, and in about a fortnight the nests
and eggs are about as numerous as they were before the calamity.
Instances have occurred when such a disaster happened twice in a
breeding-season, and yet the Clapper Rails were not discouraged,
but commenced building nests and laying eggs for the third time.
The young of the Clapper Rails bear a strong resemblance to the
young of the Virginia Rails, although they are somewhat larger..
They are covered, as well as the young Virginia Rails, with a soft
black down, but differ from the latter in having a whitish spot on the
auriculars, and a whitish streak along each side of the breast, belly,
and fore part of the thigh. The legs are of a blackish slate color.
These birds have a little white protuberance near the tip of the bill,
and they are also whitish around the nostrils. They run with the
greatest facility among the long grass and reeds, and can only be
caught with great difficulty. Several young Clapper Rails caught
in the marshes in New Jersey, about the middle of July, corre-
sponded with the above description, the males and females being
marked alike. The extreme nervous vigor of its limbs, and its
compressed body, which enables it to run among the grass, reeds,
and rushes with the greatest rapidity, seemed to be the only means
of defense of this bird.  Almost everywhere among the salt-
marshes are covered passages under the flat and matted grass,
through which the Rail makes its way like a rat, without being
noticed. From nearly every nest runs one or more of these cov-
ered roads to the water's edge, by which the birds can escape un-
seen. If closely pursued, the Rail will dive and swim to the other
side of the pond or inlet, rising and disappearing with celerity and
in silence. In smooth water the Rail swims tolerably well, but
not fast; he sits rather high in the water with the neck erect, strik-
ing out with his legs with great rapidity. On shore, he runs with
the neck extended, frequently flirting up his erect tail, and running
on smooth ground nearly as fast as a man.
These birds are always very difficult to catch on land even when
their wings are broken. They can remain under water four or five
minutes, clinging closely to the roots of rushes with the head bent
downward. Their flight resembles that of a Duck. They gener-
ally fly low above the ground, with the neck extended, and with
great velocity; but like all the Rail tribe they have a dislike to
take wing, and whenever you traverse the marshes and accident-
ally start one Clapper Rail, you may be sure that there are hun-
dreds of these birds, which, if hunted by a dog, will lead him

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