Sixteen endangered light-footed clapper rails were released at San Elijo Lagoon in Encinitas on June 16 as part of a captive breeding program partially funded by the Port of San Diego. The critically endangered birds were set free through a special conservation effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in San Diego, the Chula Vista Nature Center, Sea World and the Wild Animal Park.
The light-footed clapper rail once thrived in the coastal marshes of Southern California, although the development of 90 percent of the clapper rail's natural habitat along with the threat from introduced predators like the red fox and feral cats caused the population to dwindle. Habitat destruction has also resulted in ‘genetic bottlenecking' within the isolated subpopulations. This lack of genetic diversity results in the birds inbreeding which causes a decline in the breeding rates.
Additionally, because of the inbreeding, the birds and their offspring become very unhealthy. The clapper rails were tagged in order to keep track of the population in the wild. In 1998, only 222 pairs of clapper rails were counted in their range in California and a program was started to increase their numbers. In the 10-year period since then, the number of breeding pairs in the wild has doubled with the program releasing more than 200 captive-bred birds.
There are many species of wildlife that call San Diego Bay home. The Port invites the public to learn more about the plants and animals using our customized Google Earth download.