Living Bird Magazine
King RailRallus elegans
- ORDER: Gruiformes
- FAMILY: Rallidae
An elegant dweller of freshwater and brackish marshes, the King Rail is a rich buffy bird with crisp stripes on its sides. This largest of North America’s rails is very secretive as it slips through short marsh vegetation in search of crayfish, crabs, and frogs. Its call is a steady series of harsh notes, more staccato than the call of the very similar Clapper Rail. Owing to wetland loss and modification, King Rail numbers have declined 90% in the last half-century, putting the species on the Yellow Watch List.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Listening for King Rail calls is a good first step in finding them, so aim for quiet, shallow marshes and look for calm, dry weather. These birds often call at night. Look for locations in freshwater and brackish marshes where you can study edges of the vegetation and catch one as it comes into view. Driving slowly along a roadside ditch or dike and watching for movement is another good strategy. Be patient: this species regularly ventures out to marsh edges to feed, sometimes with young in tow.
- Rascón Elegante (Spanish)
- Râle élégant (French)
- Cool Facts
- The adult King Rail molts completely after nesting and is flightless for nearly a month while it grows a new set of feathers.
- The King Rail usually gets its food in aquatic habitats but occasionally catches food on land. When that happens, the rail often carries the prey to water and dunks it before eating it.
- The male King Rail presents food to its mate during courtship. One male caught 7 crayfish in 2 hours, and presented 5 of those to his mate.