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Two sightings of rare Corncrake in Kerry this year

Environment Watch


The Corncrake visits Ireland in the summer months

The Corncrake visits Ireland in the summer months

The Corncrake visits Ireland in the summer months


The Corncrake is a summer visitor from April to September. It's a shy, secretive bird of hay meadows. The distinctive kerrx-kerrx call of the male is often the only indication of their presence.

Adults show a brown, streaked crown with blue-grey cheeks and chestnut eye-stripe. Breast buffish grey, with chestnut smudges on breast sides. Flanks show chestnut, white and thick black barring, fading on undertail, with a short bill and yellow-brown legs.

The Corncrake overwinters in central and southern Africa. The vast majority migrate through and overwinter in the eastern parts of Africa. A very small number of Corncrakes may over-summer in Africa, but such individuals are possibly unable to migrate due to sickness or injury, or may be first-year birds who are not ready to breed. An analysis of habitat and population density data indicates that they are mostly concentrated within grass-dominated habitats, mirroring their habitat preferences in the breeding areas.

Corncrakes reach their wintering distribution mostly through an eastern migration route, but some individuals or sub-populations from the western breeding population also use a western migration route.

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Corncrakes prefer to run through thick cover. Favourite sites are in long grass and amongst tall weeds and damp places, dropping quickly back into cover when flushed. The flight is weak and floppy, but large bright chestnut patches on wings and their dangling legs are distinctive features when flying.

Males give their very loud, distinctive call during the breeding season, which is repeated during the day in fits and starts, reaches a peak about dusk and continues through the night till dawn. Its onomatopoeic Latin name seems to be derived from this sound. The sound of the Corncrake has been compared with two cheese-graters rubbed together, producing a sound so monotonous as to qualify the bird as the world's worst singer.

This lack in vocal accomplishment is more than compensated for by their dignified operatic deportment as they stand erect with head held high and beak wide open. Favourite sites are in long grass, amongst tall weeds and damp places.

Corncrakes eat about four-fifths animal food and one-fifth vegetable matter. The animal part consists mainly of insects, but slugs, snails and earthworms are also eaten. Plant material taken includes seeds of grasses and sedges, eaten in larger quantities in the autumn.

There were 151 calling males reported in Ireland during 2019, which is up slightly by 11 birds on 2018, it's a very modest increase but hopefully this trend will continue. The species bred in on Great Blasket between 1940 and 1960 and was reported in 1966 as "plentiful around Blennerville in summer". There were 42 singing males recorded in the county in 1978, but by 1988 this had dropped to only 18 singing males. The last recorded breeding of Corncrake in Kerry was at a location in South Kerry during the summer of 2010.

Many poets have written about the Corncrake, Andrew Marvell's "Upon Appleton House", written in 1651 about the North Yorkshire country estate of Thomas Fairfax.

John Clare, the nineteenth-century English poet based in Northamptonshire, wrote "The Landrail", a semi-comic piece which is primarily about the difficulty of seeing Corncrakes - as opposed to hearing them.

The Finnish poet Eino Leino also wrote about the bird in his poem "Nocturne".

The Pogues' Lullaby of London, in which Shane McGowan uses the corncrake's cry as a motif to illustrate his alienation in the city.

He sings:

'…Though there is no lonesome Corncrake's cry,

Of sorrow and delight,

You can hear the cars,

And the shouts from bars,

And the laughter and the fights...'"