This crow-sized wetland bird is light brown in colour with black mottling on the back, and white and black barring along the belly. They are slender with a long beak and long legs, and they are the largest species of the rail family. They are often hidden in the vegetation, so they are more easily detected by their call, especially at night. Their common call is a slow and low “gelp-gelp-gelp”, and they also make a loud “kik-kik-kik” up to 10 times in a row.
The King Rail feeds primarily on crustaceans, especially crayfish and crabs. They will also eat aquatic insects, some vegetation, fish, frogs, small snakes, small rodents, fruit, and acorns. King Rails wade through shallow waters to look for their next meal, catching them quickly and swallowing most prey whole with their long bill. They like to hunt in the early morning and late afternoon when the day is at its coolest.
Biology and Behaviour:
King Rails return to their Ontario breeding sites in April and build their nest systems on the ground amongst grasses and sedges. During courting, a male King Rail will strut with his tail in the air to show the white under feathers. They will also chase females, and bring them food. The males will do most of the work, building a herbaceous canopy over the nest, and ramps leading down to the water, as well as a few other “sample” nests that are not used, and some that will be used by chicks for shelter later on. Their clutch size is 8-10 eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about three weeks. Both parents will care for their young for about two months.
Predators include snakes, skunks, foxes, minks, snapping turtles, and several raptors. Domestic cats are increasingly becoming a major predator in more urban areas.
- The King Rail looks similar to the Virginia Rail, except it is about twice as big. It also lacks the grey patches on their cheeks
- Least Bittern also looks like the King Rail, but has a thicker bill and solid black back feathers
Conservation and recovery strategies:
There has been very little research done on Ontario populations of King Rail, so one of the recovery priorities is to increase systematic surveys and assess wetlands for their habitat potential. Further studies will also help narrow down which threats to address. The Ontario recovery strategy also prioritizes protecting and restoring wetlands in areas where these birds are known to occur. They encourage the incorporation of Traditional Ecological Knowledge into all plans. Community outreach to gather existing knowledge has also taken place in some areas.
Kraus, Talena. 2016. Recovery Strategy for the King Rail (Rallus elegans) in Ontario. Ontario Recovery Strategy Series. Prepared for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Peterborough, Ontario. v + 8 pp. + Appendix.
Pickens, B. A. and B. Meanley (2018). King Rail (Rallus elegans), version 3.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.kinrai4.02.1
Interested in learning more about birds? Check out our blogs!
Hummingbird Population Trends: What You Should Know Many North American bird populations are in decline, but does this include hummingbird species? This question was investigated in a recent research article …Read More
Keep Your Fur Child & Wildlife Safe (aka. Apocalypse Meow) We tend to love and dote upon our pets. We treat them as our children, and post photos of their silly …Read More