Corncrake

Crex crex

27-30cm

Appearance

Similar to a chicken in stature, this bird has a pointy, short bill and quite a stout neck. The sexes are similar with sandy-brown, darkly streaked upperparts, blue-grey face, breast, throat and belly, and reddish flanks barred with white. Rust-coloured feathers on the wings are seen in flight and when stationary, and the wings are full with rounded tips in flight. Juveniles are mostly greyish-brown and they lack the markings of the adult.

Habitat

The north-west of Scotland is the most common breeding area for these birds in Britain. They favour thick low grasslands and the dry edges of marshes; usually stays away from wet locations.

Character

Usually alone apart from when nesting, this is a timid, inconspicuous bird who is heard rather than seen. Lifts its legs high when walking and is a fast and agile runner, able to weave through thick vegetation. Most often flutters with legs hanging below, but when flying longer distances the legs are tucked up and the flight is more focussed; capable of flying huge distances, across the Sahara, for example.

Food

Diet includes insects such as flies, grasshoppers, spiders and ants. Will also consume snails, worms, seeds, leaves and stems of plants.

Breeding

Female lays 8-12 eggs which she incubates for 16-19 days. She feeds them for their initial days, and they can fly at approximately 34 days old. Not uncommon for female to have two broods.

Population

There has been a steep decrease in numbers across the last century. It is a summer visitor to Europe, arriving in mid-April and departing in August or September. The call of about 1200 males have been heard in Britain, 150 in Ireland, and these numbers are the best indication of the breeding population.

Observation Tips

Aside from the off-chance of seeing a migrant, the best opportunity to view this bird is on one of the remaining breeding grounds such as an Outer Hebridean island; if the birds are located, it's still likely that they'll be heard and not seen.

Voice

The characteristic 'crek-crek, crek-crek' is heard from territorial males relentlessly throughout the night.
Back to Bird Index