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San Diego port commits $180,000 to help propagate endangered `Ridgway's Rail' bird

Waterfowl rest in the placid waters of the Salton Sea on Feb. 25, 2019.
Nicholas McVicker
The dry, sparse landscape of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, east of Bonita and Chula Vista, stretches into the distance, July 23, 2014.

The Port of San Diego will continue to support efforts by the Living Coast Discovery Center to propagate an endangered bird known as the Ridgway's Rail — pledging $180,000 over the next five years, it was announced Wednesday.

Chula Vista's The Living Coast is a nonprofit zoo and aquarium environmental education program located within the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It has partnered with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Hubbs SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo Safari Park and California Department of Fish & Wildlife on its regional propagation program — or captive breeding program — to rear Ridgway's Rails since 2000.

The endangered light-footed Ridgway's Rail is a gray-and-rusty colored bird about the size of a chicken that lives in the dense vegetation of coastal wetlands primarily in Southern California and Baja California.


According to the Discovery Center, in San Diego Bay, Ridgeway's Rails are known to nest within the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge and forage in the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve. Rails have also been observed foraging in other San Diego marsh habitats, such as the F&G Street Marsh in Chula Vista. The rail is a subspecies of the Clapper Rail.

"Supporting The Living Coast's Ridgway's Rail breeding program is just one part of what we do to protect and enrich San Diego Bay's natural resources," said Dan Malcolm, chairman of the Board of Port Commissioners. "Our vision is to advance a thriving waterfront that is sustainable and prosperous while enhancing the quality of the natural environment for present and future generations."

The port's funding is intended to support a bevy of items, including staff training and resources, medical and nutrition care for the birds at all stages of life, proofing pens to ensure the rails become acclimated to the natural environment prior to release, tracking juveniles to assess their survival in the wild, artificial nesting platforms for wild birds to use and the annual surveys in Southern California salt marshes.

"The continued support from the Port of San Diego has been essential for The Living Coast's efforts in saving species like the light-footed Ridgway's Rail," said Aiyana Reissman, animal care manager at The Living Coast Discovery Center. "We are seeing improvements in the population each year and in turn we are learning more and more about the environment we are all working to preserve."

Statewide surveys began tracking the number of breeding pairs in 1980, and by 1985 the species dipped as low as 142 breeding pairs in 14 marshes across the entire state. Since then, in part due to the success of captive breeding programs, the species reached a high of 656 breeding pairs in 18 marshes by 2016.