The Corn Crake (Crex crex), or landrail is a small bird in the family Rallidae. Its breeding habitat is not marshes as with most crakes, but, as the name implies, meadows and arable farmland.
Distribution / Range
It breeds across Europe and western Asia, migrating to Africa in winter. It is in steep decline across most of its range because modern farming practices mean that nests and birds are destroyed by mowing or harvesting before breeding is finished.
The best place to look for or listen to them in the UK is in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. In Ireland, the best place to hear the birds is the island of Inishbofin, Galway, off the coast of County Galway.
In 2008 a decline of about 8% in the number of “calling males” was noticed.
The adult Corn Crake is 22–25 cm (8.6–9.8 in) long with a wingspan of between 46–53 cm (19–21 in). It weighs between 125–210 g (4.5–7.5 ounces).
It has mainly brown, heavily spotted upper parts, a blue-grey head and neck, and reddish-streaked flanks. It has a short bill and shows chestnut wings and long dangling legs in flight.
Males and females look alike, but in the immature bird, the blue-grey is replaced by buff. The downy chicks are black, as with all rails.
The Corn Crake is very secretive in the breeding season and is heard far more often than it is seen. It is hard to flush, walking away through the vegetation.
The song, mainly heard at night and very early morning, is a repetitive, far-carrying crex crex like two notched sticks being rubbed together.
This bird feeds mainly on insects, as well as seeds, shoots and frogs.
The species’ name used commonly to be spelled as a single word, ‘Corncrake’, but the official English name is Corn Crake, and the trend now is to follow this. Other Scottish names for the bird include Corncraik, Corn Scrack (in Aberdeenshire), Daker, King of the Quail (from observations of individuals often taking off, and flying with flocks of quail), Land Rail, Quailzie, and Weet-my-fit.
Originally called a “Corne Crake” in Scotland, Thomas Bewick introduced this name in his book, “A History of British Birds” (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1797). Most of these names derive from both its habitat and its odd call.
The name ‘Daker’ has been derived from the Old Norse “Ager-hoene”, meaning “Cock of the field”. Scottish Gaelic names include Garra-gart (perhaps from the Gaelic word “garrag”, meaning “to yell”), and Racan-arbhai.
The most common name in Gaelic is Traona.
- The Pogues song “Lullaby of London” mentions “…though there is no lonesome corncrake’s cry…”
- The Decemberists mention the corn crake in two of their songs, “The Bachelor and the Bride” and “The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)”.
- I. Burfield; R. Pople; S. Butchart; J. Taylor. ““. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. . Retrieved April 29, 2009. Database entry includes a range map and justification for why this species is near threatened.
- Severn Carrell (December 16, 2008). “Corncrakes suffer severe decline after grant reforms for farmers“. Guardian News and Media Limited.
- Wild Birds Unlimited. “Corn Crake“. https://whatbird.wbu.com. Retrieved April 29, 2009.
- Jonathan Elphick, Ed. (2007). The Atlas of Bird Migration: Tracing the Great Journeys of the World’s Birds. Buffalo: Firefly Books. p. 95. ISBN 1554072484.
- This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 edition of The Grocer’s Encyclopedia.
- Robin Hull (2001). Scottish Birds: Culture and Tradition. Edinburgh: Mercat Press. p. 156. ISBN 184183 0259.