Guest blog by RSPB Rathlin Island Warden Liam McFaul


Rathlin is Northern Ireland’s only inhabited offshore island and while the population of us living there is quite small, the number of corncrakes is worryingly low – with just one male bird heard calling over the last few years.
So it’s fantastic now for us to be able to confirm that there are two pairs of corncrakes on the island.
A male has been heard calling in one location on Rathlin each year since 2016 and we’re delighted to have recorded two breeding males in two separate sites on the island this summer.
One of the sites - in Church Bay - is on land that we manage (it’s owned by an islander) and it has had nettles planted by staff and teams of volunteers to encourage these iconic birds to return to Rathlin.
It’s fantastic and really encouraging that the work we’re doing for corncrakes is making a difference.
It's been an exceptional year because for the first time since the 1980s we have had two calling corncrakes.


Corncrakes are rarely spotted but the Church Bay male bird was calling during the daytime since mid-May and came out into the open on occasion and was even captured on camera, as you can see by these fantastic Ronald Surgenor photos.
These birds spend the winter in western Africa, so it's a really long migration for them. There's a high mortality so they will produce two broods of young over the course of the summer when they come to places like Rathlin, the Western Isles off Scotland and parts of western Ireland.
The second male corncrake was recorded on private land owned by farmer Richard Green and his family on the western end of Rathlin.
Hopefully now we will see these birds’ numbers increasing and get a sustainable population.
I must thank all of the RSPB volunteers who have played their part in this conservation success story.
We've been creating areas of early cover over the last 15 years or so. This has involved teams of volunteers on the mainland over the winter digging up nettle rhizomes because that's ideal habitat for corncrakes. If you plant them, they grow early in the season and that encourages the birds to come in.


Nettles are brilliant because it creates this open structure where the birds can hide below them and work away through the vegetation. The nettles hold a lot of invertebrates and insects that they can feed on so it's like their shelter, their hiding place and their food store all in one.
By creating this habitat and now seeing birds coming in regularly we're pretty certain that we are getting there. We're not going to stop doing the habitat management because you can't have enough of the right habitats for these birds.

Corncrake pics (C) Ronald Surgenor

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