King Rail

I was working down in Southwest Louisiana in Cameron Parish and we’d been hearing this loud cackling from the roadside marsh all week.  After one such bit of cackling, someone spotted a chicken-sized bird running across the road.


I knew right away what it was since I had looked for one all last year at Big Branch NWR in St. Tammany Parish.
“Marsh chicken!” one guy said
“Galinule” said another, slightly disinterested
“A king rail!” I exclaimed as I dove for my camera.
“Take a good look, because I’ve never actually seen one before and it might be years before you see one again”.
And just as if to prove me wrong to my colleagues, the marsh and the universe; this happened.

An hour later, about 200′ down the road we had set up a workstation and were greeting with the same cackling, but this time from all around.  I looked up and, sure enough, another King Rail was crossing the road, only this one had a baby!DSC_1048 - king rail single chick

It was immediately followed by a 2nd adult and MORE BABIES.DSC_1049 - king rail road crossing

The chicks were little more than tiny black balls of down with legs.  They kept falling over and turning around and walking in the wrong direction.DSC_1052 - king rail crossing

Nine babies in all with an adult group of three.  Not the usual atomic family.DSC_1056 - king rail wide

The adults carefully shepherded the babies across the road into the high grass on the other side.  The whole act took about 10 minutes with confused chicks stumbling here and there like tiny, drunken dust bunnies.DSC_1060 - king rail shepherdingDSC_1063 - king rail with chicks

After the babies were peeping safely in the grass, two of the adults came out in the road.DSC_1112 - king rail adult

Turns out three was a crowd.  This picture doesn’t really do it justice, but these two were really going at it.


DSC_1118 - king rail adults

Later, one protective bird strutted right up to our table and started bowing up as if to scare us off.DSC_1126 - king rail close-up

Although I had heard King Rail before, I never actually count something until I lay eyes on it (preferably with a photo).  What a way to see a species for the first time.

All in all, I saw and heard 23 King Rail that day including another family group with slightly older chicks. DSC_1138 - king rail chick