King Rail

Rallus elegans

Summary 4

The King Rail (Rallus elegans) is a waterbird, the largest North American rail.

Rallus elegans 5

A large (15-19 inches) rail, the King Rail is most easily identified by its mottled brown back, rusty neck, streaked flanks, and dark brown face patch near the eye. This species may be separated from the similarly-colored Virginia Rail (Rallus limnicola) by that species’ much smaller size, and from the similarly-sized Clapper Rail(Rallus longirostris) by that species’ paler body and grayer face. Male and female King Rails are similar to one another in all seasons. The King Rail breeds across much of the eastern United States and southern Canada, being absent only from New England, the Appalachian Mountains, and the upper Midwest. Northerly-breeding populations migrate south to the coastal southeast in winter, whereas southern- and coastal-breeding populations are non-migratory. Other non-migratory populations exist in Cuba and central Mexico. King Rails breed in a variety of marshland habitats in areas of fresh or brackish water, utilizing similar habitat types during the winter. As this species avoids pure saltwater, it experiences limited competition with the Clapper Rail, which favors saltwater marshes. King Rails primarily eat small invertebrates, such as insects and crustaceans. In appropriate habitat, King Rails may be seen wading in shallow water while foraging for food on the submerged bank. If these birds are more hidden, perhaps beneath tall marsh grasses, it may still be possible to hear their call, a grating “chuck” repeated many times in succession. King Rails are primarily active during the day, although they may be heard calling at night.

Threat Status: Least concern

Sources and Credits

  1. (c) Jerry Oldenettel, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),
  2. (c) Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),
  3. anonymous, no known copyright restrictions (public domain),
  4. (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA),
  5. (c) Unknown, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),

More Info