Corncrake: The rarely-heard bird call which you may be able to hear in the Yorkshire countryside right now

Listen out on a walk in the country just now, especially at night or early morning, and you just might hear a singing male corncrake.

The call is a very distinctive rasping one , like the sound of you running your thumb across the teeth of a comb, and is delivered from deep cover. The corncrakes's scientific name, Crex Crex reflects this.

It is now rarely heard across Britain and it is hard to imagine that until the start of the last century it was a familiar sound in meadows and grasslands across almost every English country.

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Their rapid disappearance came with the switch to earlier cutting for silage and conversion of many hay meadows to arable.

A corncrake sitting in grassA corncrake sitting in grass
A corncrake sitting in grass

Also corncrakes are very reluctant to break cover so as a result many thousands of adults, chicks and eggs were destroyed by farm machinery.

By the 1970s their last strongholds were on the islands off North West Scotlands and this has remained the case although their fortunes have fluctuated recently with a fall in numbers.

Last summer markeds something of a turning point with numbers up to 870 calling males, the first increase for five years.

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There was also good news from Ireland with a 35 per cent increase over the past five years to 218 males last year all thanks to improved habitat management such as later mowing to give the birds change to fledge.

In eastern England the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust is leading a long running project to release captive reared corncrakes into the wild.

Last year 94 birds were released which spent the summer there before migrating to Central Africa for the winter.

Now it remains to be seen how many of these have made it back to England this summer along with the others that have done so.

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In our region one place to listen for corncrakes is in the traditionally farmed Lower Derwent Valley between York and Selby where they have bred in some summers with an exceptional ten pairs in 2018.

There have also been several breeding pairs at undisclosed sites in the Yorkshire Dales.

If you think you have heard a corncrake e-mail [email protected] to let them know where the sighting took place and send an audio clip or video if possible.

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