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King Rail

Rallus elegans

Length: 16 inches Wingspan: 20 to 22 inches Seasonality: Rare Visitor
ID Keys: Large size, richly covered with sharp black and white barring on flanks, rusty body with dark striping on back, long bill.

King Rail - Rallus elegansThe King Rail is the largest of the North American Rails.  They are less shy than many of the rails, and can sometimes be seen boldly foraging in open shallow waters.  They are very closely related to the Clapper Rail.  While the King Rail is a primarily a bird of fresh water and the Clapper Rail is primarily a bird of salt water, they do often interbreed where the intermix on brackish near-coastal waters.

Habitat: Uses a variety of shallow fresh- and brackish-water habitats, provided dense cover is available.

Diet: Feeds heavily on aquatic insects, especially beetles.  Also feeds on crayfish, crabs, snails, clams, small fish, frogs, and seeds of aquatic plants.

Behavior: Forages in shallow water, usually in and around dense cover.  However, they are often much less shy than other rails, foraging out in the open and not particularly shy of a human observer.

Breeding: Only a handful of breeding records in South Dakota (SDOU, 2001).

Song: Sharp kek-kek-kek-kek. 

Migration: Summers throughout much of the eastern half of the United States.  Birds in the northern part of its range move southward to the southeastern U.S. in winter, while those at the southern part of its range are permanent residents.

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of King Rail sightings

Similar Species: Clapper Rail

Conservation Status: Has declined in many areas due to habitat loss.  However, the IUCN lists the King Rail as a species of "Least Concern".  Populations remain widespread, and they are locally common where suitable habitat remains.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, King Rail

2) WhatBird - King Rail

3) Audubon Guide - King Rail

Photo Information: Photo from Ohio, courtesy of Lana Hays


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - King Rail
South Dakota Status: Rare visitor in South Dakota.  Historical records indicate the species was once more common in the state.

Additional King Rail Photos (Coming Soon!!)