synonymous sound of rural places in summer is silent
Silage, a blessing to farmers, a curse to corncrakes. In
wet may meadows of other days there wasn't a parish
in County Limerick which the grating call crek-crek, didn't
Now the once synonymous sound of rural places in summer
is silent, a generation of young farmers has never heard
Figures of the endangered species produced this week in
Wings , the BirdWatch Ireland magazine, raises further alarm.
In the ten year period from 1994 to last year, despite trojan
conservation work in the Shannon Callows near Banagher and
in Donegal and Co. Mayo, only a sixteen bird increase was
In this decade in the whole country the number went up from
129 to 145.
Significantly in the Shannon Callows, where BirdWatch has
engaged in co-operation with local farmers, in a very worthwhile
project including late hay cutting to ensure that young
birds would have left the nest, the number of calling birds
surprisingly dropped from 65 in 1994 to only twenty two
Best results were achieved in the islands and in Donegal
where there was a total increase from 45 to 90 birds.
In Inishbofin there were 12 birds in 1994, 26 in 2001 and
14 last year.
Numbers peaked in the whole country in 1996, when one hundred
and eighty four birds were heard calling.
Locally the corncrake has been indecline since the 1960s,
Birds of Clare and Limerick, 1982 to 1991, members of BirdWatch,
records that 1982 marked the final breeding season in the
During the 1998 IWC survey there were just three records
from Limerick and twelve from Clare. Most were singles calling
More dismal is the picture in the 1988-81 report with
only two callings in Clare and none in Limerick.
While early silage cutting has been a major threat many
other methods of modern farming combine to kill off the
Arriving here in late April by June, their first clutch
will be hatched just as the first cut of silage is ready
for the machine.
As the corncrake is a ground nesting bird, with the nest
usually located in a meadow, either the eggs of the chicks
and even then herself could fall victim to the machine.
A lanky type of bird resembling at times a dishevelled hen
pheasant, If by chance it is flushed it flies off low over
the herbage with its legs trailing and appearing injured.
At this stage one would wonder how it ever succeeds in accomplishing
the long flight from Africa.
Many years ago I had young setter bitch which was named
Chance. that was bred by the late Mrs Wheeler in Pallasgreen
of Irish Setter fame.
One day Chance, flushed a corncrake and with a puppish innocence
almost dragged the bird down by the legs it was flying so
The fields around the Watery Road, which included a crocus,
all now housing estate, were noted for corncrakes.
All through the night the area echoed to the sound of the
calling crackes. While corncrakes usually frequent rain
drenched meadows during the day for nesting they prefer
The records show that the first decline in numbers was noted
as far back as 1900 (what was responsible then is still
a mystery) but after a few years there was a fairly good
A census conducted in 1978 showed the population at 1,500
down considerably on the Thirties and Forties.
Another census 10 years later showed calling birds at only
Since then it has been all the way down hill and at a dangerously
Apart from the problems in their habitats here corncrakes
have also been suffering difficulties both enroute and in
In the 1970s the routes were heavily netted and thousands
of birds were caught annually - their flesh a delicacy in
In Africa, apparently many died in the 1960s and 1970s because
of a climate problem.
The corncrake has a very strong game scent and years ago
gundog trainers used the bird to train their setters and
Courtesy of the Limerick Leader
By Tom Browne
21st May 2005