Photo Credit: Marlene Cashen & Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Rallus elegans
OTHER NAMES: Marsh hen and freshwater marsh hen.
DESCRIPTION: King rails are the largest rail found in
DISTRIBUTION: The king rail has a broad geographic range encompassing most of the eastern
HABITAT: Found in a variety of marshes including coastal, brackish and freshwater. Will inhabit marsh-shrub swamps and can be found in road side ditches, tidal rivers and rice fields. Requires large marshes with open shallow water that merges with shrubby areas. Prefers abundant vegetation especially bulrushes, cattails and sedges. Wintering birds utilize coastal brackish and freshwater marshes but rarely salt marshes.
FEEDING HABITS: King rails are omnivorous, diurnal (daytime) feeders that prefer crustaceans and insects. In freshwater areas they utilize crayfish and in brackish or tidal marshes fiddler crabs are an important part of their diet. Aquatic invertebrates, fish, frogs, grasshoppers, crickets, and moist soil plant seeds are also consumed. Similar to owls, pellets containing exoskeletons, which are indigestible, are regurgitated.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: King rails are known to return to the same nesting area year after year. Nesting can begin as early as February and continue as late as August. Nesting sites are normally chosen and defended by the male. Yearly monogamous pair bonds are established on the breeding grounds. Nests are grass lined depressions on a tussock (bunch of grass); clump of vegetation or in a short shrub. Nests are concealed by grasses or vegetation bent over the nest. Abundant vegetation and stable water levels are important requirements during breeding season. Clutch size ranges from 8 to 11 eggs. Eggs are pale buff with brown spots. Incubation starts as soon as the last egg is laid and lasts approximately 22 days. Both sexes participate in nest building, incubation and care of the precocial (down covered, active) young. First flight of young occurs around the 63rd day. Nests are preyed upon by raccoon (Procyon lotor), mink (Mustela vison), and red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Northern harrier (Circus cyaneus) and the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) will prey on adults. King rails migrate at night and apparently alone.
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection http://dep.state.ct.us/burnatr/wildlife/factshts/krail.htm (11-06-06)
Rabe, M. L. 2001. Special animal abstract for Rallus elegans (King rail).
Reid, Frederic A. and Brooke Meanley and Leigh H. Fredrickson. 1994. King Rail. Pages 181-191 in T. C. Tacha and C. E. Braun, eds. Migratory Shore and Upland Game Bird Management in North America. International Association of Fish and
Species at Risk http://www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca/search/speciesDetails_e.cfm?SpeciesID=24 (3-9-06)
Author: Richard Tharp, Certified Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries