RSPB NI are delighted to confirm that four calling corncrakes have been sighted on Rathlin Island this breeding season. This is a great result for the species, with the first reported sighting confirmed on 13 April, 11 days earlier than expected.

Rathlin is the only place in Northern Ireland home to this red-listed species (a bird of high conservation concern) and RSPB NI will continue to work towards protecting these secretive birds, known for their distinctive ‘crex-crex’ call. As one of Northern Ireland’s rarest birds – the species numbers have been in sharp decline since the 1980’s and RSPB NI in partnership with volunteers and landowners have worked hard to create the right habitat for a corncrake comeback.

RSPB Rathlin Island Warden, Liam McFaul said, “I was thrilled to have heard two males in early April, so to have a total of 4 on the island once again really is incredible. The first corncrake was heard in nettle beds in the Church Bay area, a habitat created over the last decade by RSPB NI staff and volunteers, and it’s rewarding to see our conservation efforts bringing them back to the island.” Liam will continue to monitor the birds, which are all within a half-mile radius of each other, over the course of the season.

Corncrake in the fields of Rathlin Island, Image credit: Ronald Surgeoner

RSPB NI have been working with landowners and volunteers to create habitats for corncrakes by digging nettles and cutting back scrub. The nettle roots are washed and transported to Rathlin for replanting within the Church Bay area which is known territory for the corncrake during breeding season. The hope is that this will help achieve a sustainable population of corncrakes and encourage them to return to the island. To date, this ongoing conservation work has resulted in year on year increases in sightings, and this year marks continued success.  

Anne Guichard, Conservation Officer, expressed the importance of volunteer support for the project “Our corncrake coming back in 2014 wouldn't have been possible without the help of our nature-friendly farmers and volunteers. But the species is still vulnerable and there is a lot more work that needs done in terms of habitat management to support a healthy population.”

For those who are hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive corncrake or hear the distinctive crex-crex call for themselves, we recommend visiting Rathlin Island from April-July however, we would like to remind members of the public if they are visiting Rathlin to try and keep your distance from the birds as they are easily spooked, and it is important they are not disturbed as any interference can cause the sensitive conservation effort to be compromised.

Volunteers digging nettles at Vow Farm, Ballymoney –Image credit: Michelle Forsythe

If you would like to support corncrake conservation in Northern Ireland, you can do so by signing up to volunteer, there will be opportunities between October -March for those interested in supporting corncrake conservation in Northern Ireland.

If you would like to find out more information please contact anne.guichard@rspb.org.uk

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