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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

King Rail -- Rallus elegans

RANGE: Breeds locally from eastern Nebraska and central Minnesota to Connecticut south through northwestern and central Kansas, central Oklahoma, and most of the eastern United States to western and southern Texas, central Mississippi and Alabama, and southern Florida. Winters primarily from southern Georgia, Florida, the southern portions of the Gulf States, and southern Texas south to Mexico.

STATUS: Uncommon; population declining in Midwest prairies, low elsewhere.

HABITAT: Inhabits coastal, and inland brackish and freshwater marshes with abundant vegetation (especially sedges, bulrushes, and cattails), roadside ditches, tidal rivers, ricefields, and upland fields near marshes. Forages and nests along waterways made by the muskrat (distribution coincides closely with that of the muskrat). Not known to breed in salt marshes, but wintering birds inhabit coastal brackish, salt (rarely), and freshwater marshes.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Wetlands with abundant vegetation and fairly stable water levels during the breeding season.

NEST: Conceals nests with a cone-shaped or round canopy of vegetation overhead; usually locates nests 6 to 18 inches above shallow water on grass or sedge tussocks or on hummocks among cattails.

FOOD: Feeds on mud flats at low tide, in open roadside ditches, or in very shallow water, 2 to 3 inches deep. Primarily eats crustaceans, especially crayfish and aquatic insects; also takes grasshoppers, crickets, fishes, frogs, grains (especially rice in winter), and seeds of aquatic plants.

REFERENCES: Bateman 1977, DeGraff et al. 1980, Johnsgard 1975a, Meanley 1969, Tate and Tate 1982.

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