A member of the family of coots, crakes and rails, the corncrake is unique in that it lives on dry land and prefers hayfields and dense cover as opposed to waterside habitats.
Landrail, Corn Crake
Adult corncrakes are relatively small, being only slightly larger than a blackbird. The male has a tawny coloured back, overlaid with black streaks and rufous wings with darker brown flight feathers. The crown is similar to the upper body colour and patternation whilst the supercilium, throat and chin are light grey with a buff coloured stripe running through the eyes from the base of the upper mandible, across the cheeks towards the scapulars. The breast, belly and vent are light grey and flanks are a mottled grey brown with white and brown bars. The bill is short, stout and pinkish grey and the eyes dark brown. The long legs and large feet are a browny pink. The adult female is similar to the male but with less grey on the upper body and more brown colouration overall.
Close up of a Corncrake
The corncrake is a shy, secretive bird with a very distinctive call which easily identifies it once heard. The voice is a loud, rasping, medium pitched and repetitive, ‘crrrek – crrrek’ similar to a fast moving football rattle or wooden ratchet, and is unmistakeable.
A Corncrake calling
Predominantly a ground forager the corncrake feeds on seeds and grasses in addition to insects, spiders, termites and beetles.
Corncrake in flight
Breeding regions for the corncrake encompass north and northwest Europe including Scotland and Ireland’s north east coast, through western and central Asia and pockets of north west China. They are migratory, overwintering in south eastern countries on the African continent including Tanzania and the DRC, extending south into South Africa.
Corncrake with wings extended
Being timid, corncrakes prefer to hide in tall grasses and vegetation in farmland and meadows and particularly favour hay fields during the mating season. They generally stay in family groups and in flight are conspicuous by their short tails, long trailing legs and rufous wings. As previously discussed, the call of the corncrake is almost unique and the best indication that they are present.
Corncrake out in the open
The breeding season extends from April through until August when either a shallow scrape or small cup shaped nest is constructed on the ground, amongst dense vegetation, using leaves and grasses. Often a cover of grass is built over the top of the nest to camouflage it from attack. One or two broods of 6 – 14 buff coloured eggs, with light brown blotches, are laid annually at a rate of one egg per day and incubated by the female alone, for up to nineteen days. Frequently the male deserts the female half way through the egg production period and finds another mate with whom to breed as well. Upon hatching, the young are precocial, that is to say they are almost immediately independent and able to feed and fend for themselves with the minimum of parental care. Fledging takes place up to five and a half weeks later.
The nest and eggs of a Corncrake
Predation rates amongst chicks can be high but on reaching one year of age birds can be expected to live for a further five or six years.
The Eurasian coot is sometimes mistaken for a duck but is in fact a wading bird with splayed toes as opposed to webbed feet. When foraging for food under the water ducks will eat their food whilst still submerged whereas coots will surface first and then eat. There are four sub-species of the Eurasian coot and eleven separate coot species.