King rail (Rallus elegans) home range and microhabitat characteristics in western Lake Erie coastal marshes

Dustin Brewer, Thomas M Gehring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The king rail (Rallus elegans) is a secretive marsh bird that is threatened or endangered in eight of nine states and provinces in the Laurentian Great Lakes (Great Lakes) region. Available survey data suggests that this species has undergone population declines across this region and these are believed to have been driven by habitat loss and degradation. An improved understanding of the amount and type of habitat king rails require during the breeding season at sites within the Great Lakes region would inform and improve progress toward conservation goals. During 2019–2021, we caught and radio-tagged 14 king rails in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan within impounded coastal wetlands of western Lake Erie. We used radio telemetry to identify breeding season (May–August) home-range characteristics and third order habitat selection within home ranges (hereafter microhabitat). For the birds whose home range stabilized (N = 10), we found a mean home-range size of 8.8 ha (±1.63 [SE]; range = 1.9 to 15.8). We generated a classification tree to determine which habitat characteristics were associated with king rail presence within home ranges in our study. We found that vegetative density within home ranges was particularly associated with king rail presence. Phragmites australis was also associated with king rail presence, despite its invasiveness and negative ecological impacts in the region, and could be selectively maintained to benefit king rails. Our results suggest that managers may be able to provide microhabitat for king rails by maintaining water depths of 6 to 17 cm and by promoting native, robust vegetation in the genera Carex and Juncus. Our findings could help inform wetland managers and conservation planners in the Great Lakes region, particularly in western Lake Erie coastal marshes, of patch sizes, water depths, plant communities, and vegetative structure preferred by king rails.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Evolution
StatePublished - 2023


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