King Rail Life History


Habitat MarshesFreshwater and brackish marshes, rice fields.Back to top


Food Aquatic invertebratesCrustaceans, especially crayfish, aquatic insects, and small fish.Back to top


Nest Placement

Nest Ground

Nest Description

A round elevated platform of grasses, sedges, or rushes, with a saucer-shaped depression, usually with a round or cone-shaped canopy and a ramp. Placed in clump of grass just above water.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:10-12 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:1.5-1.3 in (3.85-3.4 cm)
Egg Width:1.1-1.3 in (2.8-3.2 cm)
Incubation Period:21-23 days
Egg Description:Pale buff with a few irregular brown spots.
Condition at Hatching:Covered with black down, leave nest within one day. Fed by parents.
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Behavior ProbingForages mostly during the day, in areas concealed by plant cover or in comparatively open areas where it blends with its surroundings and is only a few steps from cover. In tidal areas, most feeding is at low tide. Generally forages in water so shallow that only the bill, or part of it, disappears beneath the surface.Back to top


Conservation DecliningKing Rail declined by almost 5% per year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 91%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan does not list a population estimate, but rates the species around a 16 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and lists it as a Species of High Concern. King Rail is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action. The IUCN Red List lists it as a Near Threatened species. Declines in populations are related to the loss of wetlands across North America. Pesticides may also play a role in the bird's decline, and King Rail are often killed by cars when moving around during breeding season.Back to top


Kushlan, J. A., M. J. Steinkamp, K. C. Parsons, J. Capp, M. A. Cruz, M. Coulter, I. Davidson, L. Dickson, N. Edelson, R. Elliott, R. M. Erwin, S. Hatch, S. Kress, R. Milko, S. Miller, K. Mills, R. Paul, R. Phillips, J. E. Saliva, W. Sydeman, J. Trapp, J. Wheeler and K. Wohl (2002). Waterbird conservation for the Americas: The North American waterbird conservation plan, version 1. Washington, DC, USA.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Pickens, Bradley A. and Brooke Meanley. (2018). King Rail (Rallus elegans), version 2.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center (2014b). Available from

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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