Kira Newcomb

Research Specialist








The King Rail (KIRA, Rallus elegans) is designated as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Focal Species and a Bird of Management Concern (Cooper 2008).Populations of KIRA are declining across the range of the species, especially in many parts of the southeastern United States where 95% of the North American breeding population occurs (Cooper 2008).Breeding bird survey data suggest that the species has been recently declining at a rate of about -10% per year (Sauer et al. 2008).The KIRA is listed as threatened or endangered in 12 states, federally listed in Canada, and designated as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in 30 State Wildlife Action Plans (Cooper 2008).


It is believed that wetland destruction has contributed to KIRA population declines and that the majority of suitable habitat remains on public lands (Cooper 2008).In order to manage and restore KIRA populations on USFWS refuges, it is imperative to understand the habitat needs and ecology of the species.The USFWS King Rail Conservation Plan identified that increasing the understanding of KIRA population ecology is a primary goal (Cooper 2008).Biologists hypothesize that low brood survival is a limiting factor to KIRA population growth.However, few studies have examined habitat use and survival of KIRA broods and adults.Thus, a fundamental first step to KIRA conservation is estimating brood survival and identifying habitat characteristics that are associated with high survival (Cooper 2008).


A breeding population of KIRA exists on the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge (TNWR).The first record of nesting KIRAs on TNWR was in the 1970s, but formal call-broadcast surveys were not initiated until 2006.These surveys suggest that population size may exceed 10 pairs (C. Ferrell, USFWS, unpublished data).More extensive sampling is needed to accurately estimate KIRA breeding population size on TNWR.In addition, no information exists on nest density, clutch size, or nest success for KIRAs breeding on TNWR.King rail broods have been observed using shallow-water areas near borrow ditches on TNWR (C. Ferrell, personal observation) but this may be a consequence of detectability.Detailed information is needed on habitat use and survival of KIRA broods and adults on TNWR.This information will be useful in determining the population size and ecology of KIRAs using TNWR, and will contribute to the management and conservation of the species across its range.No studies have been conducted on the KIRA population breeding on TNWR.


The objectives of my study are:


1)      Estimate breeding population size and nest density of KIRA on TNWR,

2)      Quantify habitat characteristics associated with KIRA nests on TNWR,

3)      Quantify habitat use of broods and adult KIRA on TNWR, and

4)      Estimate brood survival of KIRA on TNWR.



Collaborators: ††† U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Southeast Region), Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, and Friends of TNWR.




Cooper, T. R.2008.King Rail Conservation Plan, Version 1.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fort Snelling, Minnesota.121 pp.


Meanley, B.1969.Natural history of the King Rail.North American Fauna No. 67.


Reid, F. A.1989.Differential habitat use by waterbirds in a managed wetland complex.Dissertation, University of Missouri, Columbia.


Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2008. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 - 2007. Version 5.15.2008. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Maryland.


Photo Credits:King rail photos taken by Clayton Ferrell (USFWS, TNWR).




Salutations to all!


My professional interest in field and wildlife biology began in 2006 with an NSF-REU project at Berry College working with Trypanosoma cruzi and hunting for one of its vectors, Triatoma sanguisuga. I graduated with honors and received a B.S. in biology from Centre College the following year. After graduation, I signed on to the Student Conservation Association as a threatened and endangered species intern at MCB Camp Lejeune on the North Carolina coast. I was exposed to a wide array of wildlife management projects and got to know many extraordinary folks. As an intern, I did everything from rescuing trapped loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings from over washed nests to scraping and painting red-cockaded woodpecker cavity trees. During the second term of my internship, a Virginia Tech graduate student investigating Wilsonís plover ecology on MCB Camp Lejeune offered me an opportunity to work on her project (top center photo). It was an incredible experience and cemented my passion for avian ecology. While continuing on with data work for the Wilsonís plover project, I worked with two Virginia Tech researchers on their red-cockaded woodpecker projects (bottom right photo). Now, I am embarking on a journey with king rails through the University of Tennessee!


I was born in Milwaukee, WI and lived in Port Washington, WI until the age of 7. We moved outside of Fountain City, IN and then to Franklin, IN and finally landed in Jacksonville, AL.I was a gymnast throughout most of my school years and also played soccer in high school. Once at Centre College, I traded in sports for more scholarly pastimes and leadership opportunities with Kappa Kappa Gamma. In addition to sorority life, being involved in choir and modern dance helped keep me balanced during those college years. Post-Centre passions include reading, singing, watching movies, crafting, kayaking, geocaching, birding, and sushi.


Thank you for your interest in KIRAs!††



Contact Information



Phone: 865-974-3897



UT Wetlands Program


UT Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries