King Rail

ID Info
Silhouette RailsRails

King Rail

Rallus elegans
  • ORDER: Gruiformes
  • FAMILY: Rallidae
Basic Description

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
image of range map for King RailRange map provided by Birds of North AmericaExplore Maps

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.

Other Names
  • Rascón Elegante (Spanish)
  • Râle élégant (French)
  • Cool Facts