Northern Ireland news

Two pairs of corncrakes recorded on Rathlin for first time in 30 years

A calling corncrake photographed this summer. Picture by Ronald Surgenor

TWO pairs of rare corncrakes have been recorded on Rathlin island for the first time in 30 years.

The secretive bird's call was once a familiar sound across Ireland.

But changes to the ground-nesting bird's habitat over the last few decades saw its numbers drop dramatically until it became virtually extinct in Northern Ireland.

Rathlin is the only place in the north where the birds have been heard in recent years.

The RSPB has said there are now two pairs of corncrakes on the island for the first time in three decades.

Although a male has been heard calling on one site on Rathlin every year since 2016, now two breeding males have been recorded at two sites.

The sites are at Church Bay, which is managed by RSPB NI, and on private land at the western end of Rathlin.

Known for their distinctive 'crex-crex' call, corncrakes are summer migrants from western Africa.

The birds are secretive and like to settle in tall vegetation including nettles and cow parsley.

RSPB staff and volunteers planted nettles at Church Bay to encourage corncrakes to return to Rathlin.

RSPB Rathlin Island Warden Liam McFaul said the male bird at Church Bay has been calling since mid-May and may have mated with two female birds.

"He has been calling out in two or three different locations and then he's moving across the road to the other side and is calling quite a lot, all night long and quite often during the day," he said.

"Because of this behaviour, this could indicate that there could be more than one female in that area and he's tending to two areas at once. But because the females are silent, we don't really know."

The birds have two broods and the second brood will hatch in late July.

They will migrate back to Africa next month or September.

Mr McFaul said he hoped the number of corncrakes on Rathlin would increase.

"Each breeding pair can produce up to 16 eggs each breeding season, although there is a high mortality rate with these birds," he said.

"Increasing corncrake numbers could be a big tourism benefit for Rathlin. People travel to Tory Island in Donegal just because of the corncrakes there."

The second male corncrake has been recorded on private land owned by farmer Richard Green and his family on the western end of Rathlin.

"They're incredibly secretive birds and I've never seen one, although my daughter did manage to see one once," Mr Green said.

"Even though it sounds like you’re standing next to it you just can’t see it. My granddaughter is four and she talks about the bird and the noise it makes, so everyone here is fond of them."

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