“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday it will list the eastern black rail as a ‘threatened’ species under the Endangered Species Act, a move that gives the elusive bird new protections in South Carolina and other states where populations have declined or disappeared altogether.
Nicknamed the ‘feathered mouse,’ the eastern black rail is one of the most secretive birds in North America, well-camouflaged with its black-and-brown plumage and tiny red eyes. Ardent birders covet chances to see one or hear its distinctive kickee-doo! The agency’s move, delayed for nearly a year, came in the wake of The Post and Courier’s special report last month, Ghost Bird, which detailed the bird’s plight.
But black rails are in deep trouble. They live on slivers of habitat along the East Coast, often hiding in dense marsh grass. As developers destroyed wetlands and rising seas gobbled even more, black rails declined by 75 percent in the past 10 to 20 years, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement announcing its decision.
South Carolina has emerged as an important last bastion, especially areas in the ACE Basin and Santee Delta. Old rice fields, including many in state and federal wildlife refuges, are somewhat protected from rising seas.
Biologists with state Department of Natural Resources have done groundbreaking research in these areas — work that played a major part in the federal government’s decision this week.
State officials were encouraged to see the listing of this ‘critically imperiled species,’ said Emily Cope, deputy director of DNR’s wildlife and freshwater fisheries division. She said the listing will help the public grow more aware of the bird’s vulnerable status and ‘increase the likelihood of its recovery.’
Christy Hand, a DNR biologist and black rail expert, said the federal listing could help fund long-term projects to save the bird. ‘Much of the habitat they rely on has disappeared,’ she said. The federal listing could open doors to more grants and other money to manage areas for black rails and other rare birds.”