King rails are large rails that inhabit brackish and freshwater marshes. Rails are known as secretive marsh birds that are seldom seen, are difficult to monitor, and require special strategies for prescribed burning in the marshes where they reside. They eat crustaceans, especially crayfish, aquatic insects, and small fish. King rails forage mostly during the day, in areas concealed by plant cover or in comparatively open areas where it blends with its surroundings and is only a few steps from cover. In tidal areas, they feed at low tide. King rails forage in water so shallow that only the bill, or part of it, disappears beneath the surface.
King rails nest on a round elevated platform of grasses, sedges, or rushes, with a saucer-shaped depression, usually with a round or cone-shaped canopy and a ramp. The nests are placed in clump of grass just above water. The king rails produce 6 to 14 eggs that are pale buff with a few irregular brown spots. The chicks are covered with black down and leave nest within one day. They are fed by the parents. The hen molts completely after nesting and is flightless for a month.
King rails have a compact body with a short tail, strong legs, and a bill that is long and slightly down-curved. They have a reddish chest, nest, and back, and black and white stripes on their flanks.
The population of King Rails has declined alarmingly in much of its range over the last 40 years due to habitat loss.
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Birders flock to Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge in search of the secretive King Rail. This bird is elusive and prefers very specific wetlands habitat.