Inventive island homes are helping this endangered bird keep its head above water.
For hours, Cory Overton has been wading through a vast expanse of orange marsh in Oakland, California, straining to pick out a distinctive call over the sound of his boots sticking in the muck. Spotting a quill next to what looks like a tiki hut for a gnome, he stops and waits. A shrill cackle carries over the wind—kek-kek-kek.
Inching closer to inspect the source of the cry, Overton finally spots it: a tangerine bill, a cinnamon-hued breast, and long, scrawny legs—the chicken-sized bird known as the Ridgway’s rail.
From California to western Mexico and into Arizona and Nevada, habitat destruction is causing the population of Ridgway’s rails to plummet. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in the 1970s. Its numbers now rest in the low thousands, though its slow slide toward extinction continues. The rail has managed to hold on in places, such as the fragmented salt marshes of San Francisco Bay. But now, sea level rise is threatening to strip the bird of what little land it has left.
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