Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Corncrake
Photograph © David Burrell
Seilebost - Isle of Harris - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
6th July 2006
"...a picture of an elusive corn crake sighted at Seilebost by Beul na Mara cottages"
Our Corncrake photographs
- Crex crex
- Gaelic: Trèan-ri-trèan
- UK: Migrant Breeder, Passage Visitor.
- UK: RED LIST, 1100 males summer BTO
- WI: Fairly common (100-999 breeding pairs) migrant breeder (50% of the UK breeding population)
- Breeds: Apr-Sept. Tall grass and tall rough vegetation (Hayfields, grassland, patches of yellow flag iris, reeds, nettle or rhubarb etc). Nest on ground is of dead stems & leaves. 8 -12 greenish-grey red-spotted eggs. 1st clutch May - June, 2nd clutch July - August. Incubation 16 -19 days. Fledging 34- 38 days. Europe, Asia
- Winters: South Europe to South Africa (long-distance migrant)
- Diet: Forages insects & seeds on surface of soil and also pecks them from plants. Earthworms, beetles, slugs, snails.
- Approx size of a moorhen. Dark-streaked grey-brown. Rusty barring. Short deep bill. Strong (long) legs & feet. Flight shows bright chestnut wings, trails legs. Males & females similar.
- Listen to a Corncrake
Corncrakes are very secretive, breeding and generally hiding in tall vegetation, swiftly scurrying from one patch to dive into the next. They are heard much more often than they are seen. Usually the sound heard day and night is the distinctive creaking or rasping call of the male Corncrake trying to attract a mate.
In the 1880's the Corncrake was as widespread but by 1993 there were only 470 calling male Corncrakes recorded in Scotland, and the species was considered as heading toward extinction as breeders in the UK.
Crofters and farmers, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs have worked together toward halting the species decline.
Corncrake conservation methods include:
- Waiting until 1st of August to cutting fields of hay and silage until 1st August. (Giving eggs time to hatch with the Corncrake chicks being large enough to run from a mower).
- Mowing fields from the centre to the outside (Corncrakes can escape without having to cross areas of short grass which instinct stops them from doing)
- Fencing off areas of vegetation so they are not grazed by livestock, then they grow tall in the spring and form“early cover” for the Corncrakes. (The birds do not usually return from migration until there is ground cover tall enough to hide in)
In 2006 as a result of this work 1,141 calling males were recorded in Scotland.The highest number recorded by RSPB Scotland in 28 years.
Starlings imitate Corncrakes.
The Call of the Corncrake
Naomi Mitchison, born 1897 wrote "he said it over and over again like a Corncrake...."
Rather well put.
A male Corncrake can call 20,000 times in one night, can be heard a mile away, and can call without pause for 6 hours.
The main period for calling is between midnight and 3am.
(under your bedroom window just when it is hot enough to want to leave it open...)
http://www.corncrake.net/steckbrief_e.htm is a web site dedicated to Corncrakes, amongst other interesting items it has a wide range of different Corncrake calls on it.
- Characteristic rasping call of the Corncrake male, mainly during night, but also during day.
- Call of a male Corncrake; sign of excitement, which indicates that a female Corncrake is present or even that both are a couple.
- Excited male. Call can be heard when (1) the male is mated with a female or (2) the male is aggressive towards another male
- Call of a female Corncrake, similar to call of a male (but given only on very rare occasions)
- Female attracting juveniles (about 10 days old)
- Warning call of a female with chicks
- Calls of newly hatched chicks
- contact call of 10 day old chicks
Getting a Corncrake to call
- run a credit card across a comb
- credit card or slim piece of wood run down jeans zip
- notched piece of wood & piece of plastic
- metal comb & a pencil
- Use your voice!
Corncrake records in the Western Isles
Fairly common (100-999 breeding pairs) migrant breeder
The Western Isles breeding population is 50% of the UK breeding population
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)
I estimate 300-320 pairs
On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the Corncrake is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.
(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)
In his book Birds of the Outer Hebrides (ISBN 0 906664 00 0) Peter Cunningham wrote that one exceptionally late calling male was heard in Breasclete (Isle of Lewis) on 11th August 1977.
Other local bird photographs
Sources of information for the bird sightings section