• Welcome to BirdForum, the internet's largest birding community with thousands of members from all over the world. The forums are dedicated to wild birds, birding, binoculars and equipment and all that goes with it.

    Please register for an account to take part in the discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.
ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

King Rail - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by Skean
Plum Island, Massachusetts, USA, May 2004
Rallus elegans


Length 35cm (14 in), wingspan 61cm (24 in)


Photo © by Stanley Jones
Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Chambers County, Texas, USA, May 2018
  • White undertail coverts
  • Red-brown face, neck, breast and wing coverts
  • White throat
  • Bold black and white barring on flanks
  • Dark brown cap and hindneck
  • Brown back feathers with tawny edges
  • Whitish belly


  • Pale buff head and neck
  • Back and upperwings darker
  • White belly

Similar Species

Similar to Clapper Rail in shape and color pattern. Clapper rail tends to be smaller and grayer, and generally inhabits saltwater marshes. However, there is some overlap in physical features and habitat, and hybridization has been documented.

Virginia Rail has a long curved bill and reddish breast like the King Rail, but can be distinguished by its much smaller size, reddish bill, darker legs, and dark grey face.


Map-King Rail.png
Eastern United States, eastern Mexico, and Cuba

 R. e. elegans; year-round
 R. e. elegans; breeding
 R. e. elegans; wintering
 Aztec Rail; year-round
 R. e. ramsdeni; year-round
Maps/Texts consulted1,2,3,4,5


Freshwater or brackish marshes and marsh-shrub swamp habitats.


King Rail and Clapper Rail are closely related and are sometimes considered conspecific. Aztec Rail was formerly included in this species.


There are 2 subspecies6:

  • R. e. elegans - East Canada and north-eastern US; winters to eastern Mexico
  • R. e. ramsdeni - Cuba and Isle of Youth



Male announces presence within territory by giving repeated hard "kek" calls. They make nests of grass or marsh vegetation constructed just above the water in bushes or clumps of marsh vegetation. May place nest anywhere from dry ground to over more than 2 ft of water. Often nest in rice fields in southeastern states. Nests are usually domed with an entrance ramp. Six to 13 buff-coloured eggs are laid. Both sexes share in incubation and rearing responsibilities. Chicks are downy black with pied white-and-black bills upon hatching. The chicks are semi-precocial, being able to walk shortly after hatching but remaining dependent on the parents for food and protection for several weeks.


Mainly crayfish and crabs, but also includes other aquatic invertebrates, small fish, insects, and some plant seeds.


  1. Sibley, David A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 9780679451228
  2. Poole, Alan F. et al. 2005. King Rail (Rallus elegans). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/003.
  3. Brinkley, Edward S. 2007. Field Guide to Birds of North America. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN 9781402738746
  4. Howell, Steve N.G. and Sophie Webb. 1995. A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198540120
  5. Raffaele, Herbert et al. 2003. Birds of the West Indies. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. ISBN 9780691113197
  6. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  7. Gill, F and D Donsker (Eds). 2014. IOC World Bird Names (version 4.4). Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/.

Recommended Citation

External Links

GSearch checked for 2020 platform.