Family Rails, Gallinules, Coots (Rallidae)

Near Threatened

King Rail (Rallus elegans)


French: Râle élégant German: Königsralle Spanish: Rascón elegante

Rallus elegans


, 1834,

Charleston, South Carolina, USA


In past, often treated as conspecific with R. longirostris, R. tenuirostris, R. obsoletus and R. crepitans, or with R. tenuirostris and R. obsoletus; more recently only with R. tenuirostris; but recent study#R indicates that each of these taxa merits recognition as a separate species, based largely on molecular evidence supported by morphological details, with present species “rufous-breasted,… relatively large” and breeding in freshwater marshes; the differences are complex and require detailed evaluation both between and within current new species limits, but are provisionally accepted here in the light of genetic findings. Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • R. e. elegans Audubon, 1834 – SE Canada (extreme S Ontario) and E USA; winters S to E Mexico.
  • R. e. ramsdeni Riley, 1913 – Cuba and I of Pines.
  • Descriptive notes

    38–48 cm; male 340–490 (416) g, female 253–325 (306) g. Large rail with long, slender bill, slightly decurved near tip and usually orangish at... read more


    Very similar to that of R. crepitans and R. obsoletus. Breeding-season... read more


    Freshwater and locally brackish marshes; successional stages of marsh-shrub swamp, rice fields... read more

    Food and feeding

    Principally crustaceans, especially crayfish and crabs; also molluscs, aquatic and terrestrial insects, spiders, fish, frogs, and seeds of... read more


    Lays early Feb to mid-Jul in Florida; elsewhere in North America Mar/Apr to Jun/Aug; may rear two broods per season in S USA. Monogamous... read more


    Winters primarily from S Georgia, Florida and S Texas to E Mexico and Cuba; occurs casually in... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Currently considered Near Threatened. Fairly widespread, but declining. Population of nominate race estimated at c. 104,000–105,000 individuals... read more

    Recommended citation

    Taylor, B. & Christie, D.A. (2019). King Rail (Rallus elegans). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 9 December 2019).