The call of the Corncrake returns to Donegal

The call of the corncrake, whose Latin name Crex crex is reminiscent of its rasping call, was heard in in Donegal earlier this month, kicking off this year’s breeding season. The first two birds were reported calling behind the airport in Carrickfin on April 9th and 14th, much earlier first arrivals than last year, when the first call was recorded on April 24th. A second bird has been calling in East Town on Tory Island since Good Friday.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), which manages the Corncrake Conservation Project, is renewing its annual appeal for reports from anyone hearing the bird’s distinctive call this summer. The annual census will run until July 10th and NPWS fieldworkers are relying on the public reports to the Corncrake Hotline – Marie @ 087 6563 527 or Shane @ 085 7398 411 – to protect a maximum of nests. ‘On the mainland, corncrakes breed along the coastline from Malin Head to Ardara, and sometimes may only call for a few days before mating and going quiet. We can’t protect the birds if we don’t know where they are, and with large areas to cover during the census period, the public’s help is invaluable,’ said Marie Duffy, the project supervisor, who is based in Donegal.

Up until the 1940s, there were tens of thousands of corncrakes in Ireland; their calls filled the night air throughout the countryside. Today, the bird survives in isolated pockets of Donegal, Mayo and Connemara. Donegal is Ireland’s biggest stronghold for the species. Last year it was home to 64% of the national population, with 108 calling males recorded in the county, out of a total of 168 males nationwide. The remainder of the birds were recorded in Counties Mayo and Galway.

The Corncrake Grant Scheme seeks to protect breeding birds during the breeding season by encouraging corncrake friendly land management. It is available to all landowners with eligible land near a calling corncrake, and offers incremental payments for delayed mowing or grazing activities. If delayed mowing isn’t an option, the scheme also offers grants for mowing fields  from the centre, allowing chicks to safely escape to neighbouring cover. Given that corncrakes often raise two broods in the season, there are often nests and flightless chicks in the fields until the end of August. Unless mowing is delayed or carried out in a corncrake-friendly way, many nests are destroyed, and chicks and brooding females are at risk of being killed.

Landowner support of the Corncrake Project throughout Donegal has undoubtedly led to the halting of the species decline, yet unfortunately the birds survival in Ireland is still not assured, owing to its small population size and contracting range.  An increased uptake of the schemes is required to ensure greater site protection at a local level.

Gerry Mc Elwaine, a beef and sheep farmer in Fanad Head, has been growing nettles and managing a segment of his land for the corncrake for the last 5 years under the Farm Plan Scheme, a long-term habitat management scheme for Corncrake.  ‘I was the first landowner in the area to join the scheme’, said Gerry, ‘and initially the attitude of others was that I was crazy to be providing areas of nettles on my land for the Corncrake.. It didn’t bother me though, and the scheme is compatible with my farming activities. Birds use my nettle plots and silage for cover every year, and I can still cut my silage once they are gone. It’s a win-win situation, and the productivity losses I incur are compensated by the scheme payments. The corncrake is such a strong part of our natural and cultural heritage here, and I receive countless comments every year from locals, saying how much they appreciate hearing the corncrake. It brings them right back to their childhood on a summer’s evening. Other farmers in the area have come on board since, and now there are four of us in the scheme, so that much of the local area is managed for the corncrake.’

The Corncrake Conservation Project is fully funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, which is committed to the long-term conservation of this threatened species at a national level. This year in particular, the corncrake has been the focus of conservation efforts, with a management plan currently being drafted for the Falcarragh to Meenlaragh SPA, in full consultation with the local community. The Corncrake Project will also employ four fieldworkers over Co. Donegal, Co. Galway and Co. Mayo this year, doubling fieldworker presence on the ground relative to 2016.


If you hear a corncrake calling, please report it to:

Marie: 087 6563527 / marieduff@gmail.com for East Donegal and offshore islands

Shane: 085 7398 411 / shanecully@yahoo.ie for West Donegal.

Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin , D02 TD30. Tel: 01 631 3800 / LoCall: 1890 383 000

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