Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ridgway's Rail

Ridgway's Rail (formerly California Clapper Rail)
Arrowhead Marsh, Oakland, California, USA
December 2014
Member of the Rails, Coots, and Gallinules Family
§An Audience of Rails§

~true bird fact~ Ridgeway's Rail is an extremely 'new' bird. How new? He's only been an official bird since July of 2014! What does this mean? Well, every once in a while, the American Birding Association makes some calls about which birds are actually different from each other (and have been all along). You may remember the ABA as the organization that 'recognized' the Purple Swamp Hen from an earlier Am-Ornithologist Exclusive. Presumably someone has granted them the authority to do this, and they do so with their increasing scientific understanding of bird biology and evolution and whatnot. Anyway, it was determined that the Californian sub-species of The Clapper Rail is actually a whole different bird. They live pretty much only in the Bay Area.

Loves to cuddle
Intelligent and sensitive. Curls up with a good book (fiction, poetry)
Privileged (despite the whole 'endangered species thing') 
Doesn't understand this modern violent world. Shakes her head sadly

How Endangered Are They? There are somewhere between 1000 and 3000 of these birds left living in the wild depending upon who you ask. The trusting and apparently tasty Ridgway's Rail never recovered from over-hunting that occurred during California's gold rush, and numbers have been kept low by habitat destruction and non-native predators. This story isn't all sad, however, since as recently 1992 there were only 240 (!) of these birds. Even at the low numbers above, it's clear the rail is making some headway.

Who's this Ridgway Guy?

Robert Ridgway lived from 1850-1929 and was a major modern ornithological presence in America. He worked primarily for the Smithsonian as Curator of Birds, which is quite a title, especially since he held it for 43 years. He also was a founding member and early president of The American Ornithologist's Union. Ridgway was primarily a names and classifications kinda guy and he ended up describing more American species of birds than any other, probably mostly by noticing the minor distinctions that now set this rail apart. Unlike previous 'featured naturalist', the famously wrong WJ Swainson, Ridgway's classifications have stood the test of time so well that modern taxonomist's have a maxim that invokes him "Rule #1: Ridgway was right".

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