King Rail
(Rallus elegans)


Picture of bird
© USFWS - Public Domain
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

In Canada, the King Rail breeds in large marshes in parts of southern Ontario. Targeted searches have suggested a shrinking breeding range and decreasing abundance since the early 1970s (Cosens 1985, COSEWIC 2011g). However, due to its scarcity and the lack of ongoing monitoring, the species' population trend in Canada relative to 1970 remains unknown; the species is therefore considered data deficient. Wetland habitat loss and degradation are likely limiting factors. The King Rail was first designated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as Special Concern in 1985, and re-assessed as Endangered in 1994, 2000, and 2011 (COSEWIC 2011g) owing to its small population size and limited habitat. The species is also listed as Endangered under the Species at Risk Act since 2003. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Endangered2011 
SARA (Canada)Endangered2003 
IUCN (Global)Near threatened2018 
Partners in Flight (North America)Watch list - yellow D2017 
Wild Species (Canada)Imperiled2015 
State of North America’s BirdsWatch list2016 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaData DeficientData DeficientBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada< 100 breeding birds

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population
CanadaVery Low

General nesting period in Canada

Nesting period starts in late April and ends in early August, depending on the region. Before or after this period, the probability of an active nest is lower.

Conservation and management

In Canada, King Rails are found only in Ontario and are dependent upon large, persistent marshes for breeding and foraging. Degradation and loss of wetland habitat is the most critical factor in their presumed ongoing population declines throughout their range (Poole et al. 2005, COSEWIC 2011g). Prime King Rail habitat has been lost to development and draining for agriculture, and remaining habitats have been degraded by invasive, non-native wetland plants such as the European Common Reed (Phragmites australis; Cosens 1985, COSEWIC 2011g, Environment Canada 2012a). Perhaps because of habitat degradation, nest success and chick survival are low in some portions of their range (Krementz et al. 2016). However, the recovery of the Canadian population might be further limited by the fact that it is located at the northern edge of a generally declining, and potentially contracting, continental population (Environment Canada 2012a). For information on the legal status of this species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and to view the Recovery Strategy, please see the SARA Registry.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence PlainLower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain, sub-region and priority type: Ontario -- Conservation