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Photo: Endangered Birds Released Into Wild
Michael Mace, San Diego Zoo Safari Park curator of birds, watches one of seven light-footed clapper rails released in the 915-acre San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve on Aug. 16, 2012.
Credit: Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Seven of California's endangered light-footed clapper rails that were bred by the San Diego Zoo were released into the wild this week. The marsh birds added to a banner year for the species.

The seven birds were hatched at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Living Coast Discovery Center. They were released at the 915-acre San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve on Aug. 16.

More than 300 light-footed clapper rails have been successfully bred and released since 2001 as a result of a joint breeding and reintroduction program by Team Clapper Rail, a unique partnership between three breeding centers — San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Living Coast Discovery Center and SeaWorld San Diego — along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Navy, Unified Port of San Diego, California Department of Fish and Game and Huntington Beach Wetland Conservancy, according to a zoo statement.

A census of wild clapper rail populations shows that 2012 has been a record-breaking year for the Southern California endemic species. Biologists estimate there are more than 500 breeding pairs in 19 wetlands from Santa Barbara to San Diego. In 1980, when the census began, there were 200 pairs in 11 wetlands.