Corncrake numbers down in Scotland

Corncrakes (Crex crex) are one of Scotland’s rarest breeding birds, and whilst last year saw an increase in the birds this year has seen a blow to population numbers.

With this year’s cold, wet spring and summer being blamed for the poor season, numbers recorded by the RSPB have dropping by nearly a fifth compared to 2014.

Each year corncrakes arrive from mid-April to breed in Scotland and leave again in August and September migrating to Africa in winter while an annual RSPB Scotland survey take place each season to keep track of numbers. While once found across large parts of Scotland these visitors are typically only found in the northern and western islands with Tiree proving a popular breeding ground.

Male Corncrake calls to a mate (Photo Credit: Steve Knell)

Male Corncrake calls to a mate (Photo Credit: Steve Knell)

Rather than recording sightings, the RSPB instead listen for calling males who sing to attract mates during the breeding season. While last year was found to be the highest recorded total in 45 years with 1,289 males, this year’s numbers fell by 17 per cent to only 1,069.

As well as the harsh weather, corncrakes are also threatened by modern agricultural practices and a loss of suitable nesting habitat here in Scotland as well as collisions with vehicles, fences and overhead wires.

However, despite current threats and recent fluctuations in corncrake numbers, the population within the UK have largely recovered from severe declines over the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 1990s the numbers of calling males across the UK sat at only 400.

The corncrake remains on the Red List of birds of high conservation concern.

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Kirstin McEwan
Current Wildlife Conservation Masters student and former Environmental Stewardship graduate with interests in wildlife conservation and science communication

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