Early island corncrake creates hope

Conservationists believe that the species may have bred on Rathlin Island for the first time in 18 years.

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A corncrake in the Hebrides

A corncrake in the Hebrides © MyLoupe / UIG / Getty

 

RSPB staff and volunteers heard the unmistakeable call of the corncrake on Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland during the last weekend of April.

Although this species has been heard on the island before, the timing is much earlier than usual and has prompted hopes that this is the offspring of previously heard birds.

“There’s a chance that this could be the offspring of the male that we’ve heard calling over the last couple of years,” says Liam McFaul, RSPB NI Rathlin Island warden. “And because it’s so early in the season, its call could attract more corncrakes to Rathlin.”

The distinctive “crex-crex” call of the corncrake was heard in the same area on the western end of the island that a bird was heard in 2017.

Corncrakes are a red-listed species in the UK, which means they are of high conservation concern.

This elusive species, which usually hides in tall growing vegetation such as nettles, was once widespread across the UK but is now restricted to a few strongholds such as the west coast of Scotland.

They used to be common across Rathlin Island, but suffered a sharp decline in numbers since the 1980s. The last confirmed breeding corncrakes were recorded in 2000.

A calling bird was heard in 2014, and then in 2016 and 2017.

“Only the male corncrake calls, so hopefully this means he is home to roost,” continues McFaul.

“It’s very early in the season to have a bird come back, so this is really encouraging. Corncrakes are territorial so they always come back to the place where they were either breeding or where they hatched. We’d normally first hear the call in mid-to-late May.”

The RSPB is asking the public to not try and get close to the bird, especially as it on private land and it is important that the bird is not disturbed.

 

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