The King Rail is the largest North American Rail and is also known as theMarsh Hen, Mud Hen and Rice Chicken. It has a mottled gray, brown, and rust colored body and barred black and white sides and flanks. Their face and breast is rusty-brown and they have a dark brown crest with a white neck and light chest and belly. Their dirty yellow bill is long and slightly curved downwards and their legs are dirty light yellowish-green.
Males and female are similar, but the male is slightly larger. Immature birds are light brown on their head and they have a darker brown back and wings. Fully-grown adults have an average body length of 15-19in with a wingspan of 21-25in and they weigh between 10-18oz.
It is similar in appearance to the Common Clapper Rail, but the larger King Rail has a more brownish appearance than the grayish Clapper Rail and the barring on the flanks of the King Rail shows greater definition. The King Rail also has a more red-brown breast than the Clapper. They interbreed with the Clapper Rail in areas where their ranges overlap.
King Rails are found in freshwater marshes and brackish tidal marshes. They breed across the most of the eastern United States in freshwater marshes. Birds in the northern part of the range begin their migration in September, while southern birds do not migrate. These solitary birds migrate alone at night and winter on the Atlantic coast, the Gulf Coast, and in Mexico. In Canada, they are found in southern Ontario. Wintering birds and those in the southern range primarily use freshwater marshes with thick vegetation, but they are occasionally found in brackish and saltwater marshes.
The meat of the King Rail has a distinct strong taste. They are usually hunted opportunistically by individuals seeking out other waterfowl.
King Rails forage in shallow water near cover and predominantly feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans, fish fry and amphibiansbut they do also eat the seeds of weeds and aquatic plants.
King Rails are known to return to the same nesting area year after year. Both sexes participate in nest building and they construct grass-lined nests on the ground or slightly elevated in the branches of wetland shrubs such as buttonbush. Green grasses arched over the nest are used to conceal nests constructed on the ground. The female lays 8 to 11 pale buff, brown eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 22 days before the chicks emerge. The young leave the nest shortly after hatching but both parents care for them before they are able to fly after about 63 days. King Rails have a life expectancy of between 5-9 years of age.
They produce a variety of vocalizations, which include a harsh series of clucks, along series of evenly spaced clacks, a short series of deep grunting notes, and a click and trill.
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