Corncrake ©Peter Cairns/2020VISION


Scientific name: Crex crex
This secretive bird is a member of the rail family, related to coots and moorhens. The breeding call, a rasping rattle, is given mostly at night, sometimes for hours on end.

Species information


Length: 28cm
Wingspan: 50cm
Weight: 170g (male), 140g (female)

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 5: the Red List for Birds (2021). Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

When to see

April to September


Once widespread, corncrakes have declined dramatically in the UK, and the breeding population is now restricted to a few key areas. Unusually for a rail, they aren't found exclusively in wetlands, preferring to nest in meadows and hay fields. Corncrakes prefer areas with lots of tall plant cover, where they spend most of their time hidden from view - often the only sign a corncrake is present is the strange call given from dusk till dawn. They are summer visitors, wintering in central and southern Africa.

How to identify

Corncrakes are round-bodied and long-necked, like a water rail, but with a short, stubby bill. The plumage is mostly yellowish-brown, with darker streaks on the back and pale bars on the flanks. There are grey patches on the throat and above the eye.


Breeding corncrakes are now mostly restricted to the western and northern islands of Scotland.

Did you know?

Female corncrakes look after the eggs and chicks alone. Although they cannot fly until they're around 35 days old, the female will often abandon her first brood to fend for themseleves at 12 days old, so she can start another nest.