The migratory population of the king rail (Rallus elegans) has declined dramatically during the past 40 years, emphasizing the need to identify habitat requirements of this species to help guide conservation efforts. To assess distribution and habitat use of king rails along the Illinois and Upper Mississippi valleys, USA, we conducted repeated call-broadcast surveys at 83 locations in 2006 and 114 locations in 2007 distributed among 21 study sites. We detected king rails at 12 survey locations in 2006 and 14 locations in 2007, illustrating the limited distribution of king rails in this region. We found king rails concentrated at Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge, an adjacent private Wetlands Reserve program site, and B. K. Leach Conservation Area, which were located in the Mississippi River floodplain in northeast Missouri. Using Program PRESENCE, we estimated detection probabilities and built models to identify habitat covariates that were important in king rail site occupancy. Habitat covariates included percentage of cover by tall (>1 m) and short (≤1 m) emergent vegetation, percentage of cover of woody vegetation, and interspersion of water and vegetation (2007 only) within 50 m of the survey location. Detection probability was 0.43 (SE = 0.12) in 2006 and 0.35 (SE = 0.03) in 2007 and was influenced by observer identity and percentage of cover by tall herbaceous vegetation. Site occupancy was 0.11 (SE = 0.04) in 2006 and 0.14 (SE = 0.04) in 2007 and was negatively influenced most by percentage of cover by woody vegetation. In addition, we found that interspersion of vegetation and water was positively related to occupancy in 2007. Thus, nesting king rails used wetlands that were characterized by high water–vegetation interspersion and little or no cover by woody vegetation. Our results suggest that biologists can improve king rail habitat by implementing management techniques that reduce woody cover and increase vegetation–water interspersion in wetlands.
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Vol. 73 • No. 8