Curbing the declining trends of King Rails (Rallus elegans) that occupy freshwater emergent marshes requires an understanding of their ecology and response to management practices. King Rails were surveyed during the breeding season (March-June) at Back Bay and Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuges, Virginia and North Carolina, in 2009 and 2010. Twenty-two plots were surveyed in 2009 and 41 in 2010. Annual occupancy estimates were based on pooled data encompassing both refuges. In 2010, occupancy and abundance of King Rails were also estimated for each refuge and assessed with respect to fire management. Plots in 2010 were classified as recently burned (0–1 years-since-burn [YSB]) or ≥ 2 YSB. Occupancy probability was similar between 2009 (0.68 ± 0.14) and 2010 (0.62 ± 0.08). In 2010, occupancy probability was higher at Mackay Island (0.95 ± 0.06) than Back Bay (0.69 ± 0.13). Mean plot abundance (Mackay Island = 1.47 ± 0.38; Back Bay = 0.66 ± 0.22) was also higher. The probability of occupying 0–1 YSB plots was higher at both refuges (Mackay Island = 0.95 ± 0.06; Back Bay = 0.72 ± 0.20) when compared to ≥ 2 YSB plots (Mackay Island = 0.69 ± 0.13; Back Bay = 0.25 ± 0.12). Location strongly influenced occupancy of King Rails. It is plausible that the marsh composition (natural vs. created) accounted for the observed differences in occupancy. Natural marshes may provide higher quality habitat (e.g., resource availability) for King Rails than created marshes.
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Vol. 36 • No. 2