RSPB Scotland's Jane Shadforth shares five facts about iconic Scottish species, the corncrake.

Five facts about corncrakes

Corncrakes arrive in Scotland in April and stay until September. 

They migrate 6000 miles from West Africa and arrive on our shores from April. Three in every five corncrakes die during the long migration so it is especially important that we protect them when they come here to breed. 

corncrake calling

Male corncrakes are famous for their repetitive ‘Crex crex’ call. 

Corncrake males attract a mate with their repetitive call ‘crex-crex, crex-crex, crex-crex…’. They usually stay hidden in tall vegetation and you only know they are there when they call. You will hear them calling all through the night. 

They usually stop calling in July and it’s easy to forget that the adults and chicks are still around until late September.  

corncrake chick

Corncrakes like fertile farmland including the machair on the Outer Hebrides. They prefer tall vegetation for shelter and foraging and hay and silage meadows for nesting. 

They like to nest in hay, machair and silage meadows from April to August. They usually have 2 broods of 8-10 eggs - as they only live for 3 years they need to produce a lot of chicks to maintain a population. 

Corncrake friendly mowing allows the adults and chicks to escape to the safety of the field edge. 

Fledged chick need to survive the mowing season to be able to migrate. This is why  corncrake friendly mowing is so important - this method that allows chicks to escape the safety of the field edges. 

tractor in field

Corncrakes used to keep the nation awake at night. 

150 years ago they were common all over Britain but numbers have declined dramatically as a result of industrial farming methods. 60 years ago they were still common in Scotland, but by the 1980s there were only 400 calling males left. Now, thanks to the support of crofters and farmers there are around 900, mainly breeding on the Argyll Islands, Outer Hebrides, Skye, Durness and Orkney. 

maps showing change in corncrake distribution over past centuries