Corncrake (Crex crex)

Corncrake (Crex crex)

The first returning Corncrake was heard calling this year at Friesland, just south of Acha, Isle of Coll on 9th April by Ben Jones, the resident RSPB site manager. Further records continued throughout the month on Islay and Tiree the other strongholds of this now elusive bird.

This secretive bird is a member of the rail family, related to Coots and Moorhens. The breeding call, a rasping rattle, is given mostly at night, sometimes for hours on end. Once widespread, Corncrakes have declined dramatically in the UK, and the breeding population is now restricted to a few key areas. Unusually for a rail, they aren’t found exclusively in wetlands, preferring to nest in meadows and hayfields. Corncrakes prefer areas with lots of tall plant cover, where they spend most of their time hidden from view. Often the only sign a Corncrake is present is the strange call given from dusk till dawn. They are summer visitors, wintering in central and southern Africa.

Corncrakes are round-bodied and long-necked, like a Water Rail, but with a short, stubby bill. The plumage is mostly yellowish-brown, with darker streaks on the back and pale bars on the flanks. There are grey patches on the throat and above the eye. Breeding corncrakes are now mostly restricted to the western and northern islands of Scotland. We are fortunate in Argyll to have breeding populations, mainly on Coll, Colonsay, Iona(Mull), Islay and Tiree.

Following recent conservation efforts, a long-term decline in numbers has been reversed, although numbers still fluctuate annually. Tiree has the highest calling male count of over 300. Not surprisingly the Corncrake is classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015) and protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

The nearest imitation of a Corncrakes call can be simulated by running a comb over the edge of a credit card, but you are far better hearing the real thing by taking the short journey over to one of Argyll’s beautiful islands.

Please click on the link below to hear the real call of the Corncrake :-