Corncrake on Rathlin Island
The bird was heard in the Church Bay area of the island last weekend – a couple of weeks earlier than usual and in nettle beds specifically created by RSPB NI staff and volunteers to attract corncrakes.
The corncrake is one of our rarest birds and is a red-listed species (a bird of high conservation concern) – and Rathlin is the only place in Northern Ireland where they have been heard or seen in recent years.
RSPB NI warden Liam McFaul has confirmed the bird’s presence after an island resident was the first to hear the distinctive ‘crex-crex’ call in a field behind their house.
The conservation charity has been working hard for years to create the perfect habitat for corncrakes in field margins on the island.
This has involved working with a dedicated team of RSPB volunteers - who have been digging nettles and cutting back scrub - for more than 10 years. Each winter, the volunteers dig up nettle rhizomes which are transported to Rathlin, where they grow early in the season and this encourages the birds to come in and settle within them.
While there are travel restrictions in place all over the world at present, this thankfully doesn’t extend to birds! And so corncrakes migrate north from western Africa each summer and they will make the return journey in August or September – hopefully after a successful breeding season.
Last summer, two pairs of the rare ground-nesting birds were recorded on the island for first time in 30 years, with the movements of one of the males indicating that he potentially had two female partners.
“This really is fantastic news to be able to share,” said Liam. “Good weather this year will probably have helped the bird’s early return. And as there’s a good chance that it’s the same breeding bird that was in the area last year, it knew exactly where to return to.
“Rathlin is a safe place for us to try and attract the birds to. The landowners on the island manage their land sympathetically for wildlife; and along with the other islanders they are as delighted as we are to hear that these loved but at-risk birds are back.
“We would love to see their numbers increasing now and get a sustainable population, with four or five pairs regularly breeding. With two pairs last year and one bird returning so early now, this could be a really significant year for these birds.
“I’d also like to thank all of our volunteers who are so crucial in helping with our corncrake habitat work.”