Corn Crake (Crex crex)
The Corn Crake (Crex crex) is quite a pretty little bird that is commonly found across Europe and western Asia. They are quite different from other crakes since they do not share the same habitat. While most crakes tend to prefer marshy areas, the Corn Crake seems to favour meadows and arable farmland as a breeding ground. Unfortunately, this tendency has resulted in the Corn Crake becoming a ‘Near Threatened’ species since modern farming methods often result in the destruction of nests and birds that may be hidden in pastures and amongst crops. What’s more, it is difficult to flush these birds out, since they prefer to run from danger in amongst the surrounding growth and out of sight instead of taking flight. Since harvesting and mowing often takes place before the end of breeding season, youngsters and nesting birds are often killed in the process.
When in flight the Corn Crake is quite easily identified due to its chestnut wings and long, dangling legs. The adults have brown, spotted under parts, a blue-grey head and neck area and a reddish streak on their flanks. Immature birds are similar in colour but their heads are a buff colour instead of the usual blue-grey. The Corn Crake also has a short bill and its slender legs are a yellowish-orange. As is typical of birds belonging to the rail family, the chicks are black and later develop their distinctive colouring when they lose their down feathers. The average bird is between 27-30 cm in length with a wingspan of 46-53 cm. In general, the Corn Crake is quite a secretive bird which is more often heard than seen. At night they make a rasping ‘crek crek’ sound which is quite distinctive.
The best time to see the Corn Crake is between April and September when they arrive at their Scottish breeding grounds to nest, mate and produce offspring. These days the Outer Hebrides of Scotland is generally considered to be the best place to find the Corn Crake, though they can be found in other parts of the country too. Their diet consists mainly of insects and seeds and you are most likely to find them by listening for their call instead of looking for them amongst the growth.