King Rails

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Published on: May. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

of the feathers.

King rails have a slightly curved bill that measures about 2.5 inches long. Its color is dull tan to orange. A faint pale line occurs above the eye. The throat is dull white, and the top of the head is darker.

Like all rails, the bodies of king rails are flattened slightly from side to side, enabling them to slip through dense marsh grass without moving the vegetation. Like other members of the group, king rails have an expansive vocal repertoire of up to 15 described calls. One commonly heard call is a "clapper." Produced in unison by paired birds, this is a loud, accelerating series of "kak" or "jupe" sounds.

King rails breed in suitable wetlands from southeastern North Dakota to coastal Mexico, and east to Lake Erie and coastal southern New England. They do not occur in the Appalachians. They migrate south in autumn, mostly to coastal areas, but on rare occasions they'll stop as far north as southeastern Missouri.

In the Gulf Coast and along the south Atlantic Coast, king rails are sufficiently abundant to support limited hunting, but few hunters pursue them. Because of a loss of suitable wetlands used for nesting, a number of states prohibit hunting of king rails. In several inland states, they are considered endangered or threatened.

King rails breed in freshwater marshes and shrub swamps, and in tidal marshes with fresh or brackish water. The rail is generally associated with perennial plants, especially grasses, sedges and rushes. The water depth in ideal king rail habitat ranges from one-quarter inch to 10 inches. Most habitat for king rails in Missouri is in river bottoms, where shifting channels provide a variety of shallow wetlands.

Details of their habitat are poorly known. However. nests found in northeastern Missouri were at sites with damp soil or water up to nine inches deep. They feed in water less than six inches deep. Marshes with small hummocks and a variety of water depths should provide for most of a king rail's needs.

After spending the winter in southern coastal marshes, king rails may return to Missouri as early as late February, but most arrive by mid-May. Males typically begin calling to attract mates shortly after arrival.

After pairing, birds begin building nests. This activity usually lasts from mid-May until June, but some birds begin building nests as early as March. In southeastern Missouri, broods have been seen as early as April.

Females lay

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