King Rail

Rallus elegans




Rails, Gallinules and Coots (Rallidae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

Buff with brown spots

Number of Eggs:

6 - 15

Incubation Days:

21 - 23

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Location:

Among marsh plants.

Nest Material:

Plant stems.





King Rail: Large rail with long, orange-based bill. Underparts are orange-brown with strongly barred black and white flanks. Prominent chestnut-brown patch on wing is visible on both standing and flying birds. Female is duller overall and shows rufous-brown mixed in with black and white barred flanks. Juvenile lacks the rich colors of adults and has dark gray-brown and white mottled underparts.

Range and Habitat

King Rail: Prefer fresh water, but will also use brackish and tidal wetlands, along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts from Texas to New York. Common on the Gulf Coast, local and rare further inland. Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of their range for the winter. Found in extensive wetlands with shallow water, and a mosaic of plant species, such as grasses, cattails and sedges.

Breeding and Nesting

King Rail: Lays six to fifteen brown spotted, buff eggs in intricate woven nest well hidden among dense marsh plants. Nest has woven canopy over it and a sloping entrance ramp. Both sexes incubate for 21 to 23 days, and the precocial young leave nest within hours after hatching. Both parents feed chicks until they start finding their own food after about 3 weeks.

Foraging and Feeding

King Rail: Feeds among floating or emergent vegetation in freshwater marshes and swamps. Generally stays well hidden as it feeds, but may stray onto open shorelines and edges of mudflats as it searches for aquatic insects and crustaceans. Also feeds on frogs, clams, and seeds of marsh plants.


King Rail: Evenly spaced series of ten or less "kek" notes.

Similar Species

King Rail: Clapper Rail is found almost exclusively in salt marshes along Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Virginia Rail is much smaller (Robin-sized) and has gray cheeks.


Belly, undertail coverts, chest, flanks, and foreneck.

Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X