Wild Harris

Corncrake

Corncrake 1 CReddick.jpgCorncrake    (Photo: Cliff Reddick)

The corncrake is a bird that is usually heard but not seen. It arrives in Harris in April from Africa, and moves into iris beds and areas where there are nettles growing. It likes to hide so that it cannot be caught by cats or buzzards. When it has a good hiding place, the male corncrake start to call. They call mainly at night – you will often hear them on a summer evening. The call sounds a bit like ‘crek, crek’ and it is very croaky (a bit like a frog!).

Corncrake 2 CReddick.jpgCorncrake    (Photo: Cliff Reddick)

The male corncrakes like to set up what it called a territory – this is an area that it lives in and will not let any other male corncrakes into. When they call they are letting other male corncrakes know that this is their territory – they are also calling to attract a female corncrake. Male corncrakes that are near to each other seem to ‘talk’ to one another – one will call and then the other one replies!

Where there are hay fields, the corncrakes will move into them to make their nests. They choose the longest grass to make their nest in so that they will not be found. They feed on insects that they find on the ground.

Corncrake 3 CReddick.jpgCorncrake    (Photo: Cliff Reddick)

When the chicks hatch they are jet black –there can be up to twelve of them from one nest. The female looks after them for a while, and then leaves them to fend for themselves so that she can go and make another nest.

The males don’t help to look after the chicks at all.

At the end of the summer, the corncrakes start to migrate back to Africa. No-one is really sure where exactly they go, but recently birds have been fitted with satellite tags, so that scientists can find out which part of Africa they spend the winter in.

When the young corncrakes come back to Harris in the spring they will come back to exactly the place where they hatched out last summer. So a corncrake from Northton will always return to Northton!

by Alison Tyler