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King Rail Rallus elegans


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King Rail, adult by grass
credit: Jim Rathert/USFWS

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Rallidae, Rails, Gallinules, Coots view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE Looks rufous-orange overall with blackish rear flanks and undertail, marked with striking white stripes. Centers of many upperpart feathers are black. ADULT FEMALE Similar to male, but is paler and duller overall. JUVENILE Has back, wing covert, and upper tail pattern reminiscent of adult, but duller, grubby looking underparts.

Dimensions Length: 15-19" (38-48 cm)

Habitat Locally common but declining in freshwater wetland habitats. Present year-round in coastal belt of southern U.S.; summer range extends north and inland, but precise distribution is patchy.

Observation Tips Should you hear a calling bird, patience and quiet observation may allow a sighting.

Range Plains, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Texas, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes

Voice Utters a series of harsh tchek-tchek-tchekÖ notes.

Discussion Secretive, long-billed wetland bird that is easier to hear than see. Laterally flattened body allows it to move through dense vegetation with ease. Confusion is possible with Clapper: King favors freshwater marshes while Clapper prefers brackish; adult King is warmer rufous than grayer adult Atlantic coast Clapper and has bolder dark markings than rufous adult Gulf coast Clapper. Juveniles are harder to separate although King's upper wing coverts are brighter rufous than on Clapper. Sexes are separable.