Corncrakes calling again
Thursday 3 July 2008
The distinctive call of a rare bird which was once extinct in England can be heard again thanks to a successful breeding and rearing project at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
Among the 12 male corncrakes which have been heard calling at the reintroduction site at the RSPB Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire are ones which have been reared at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo – a fantastic achievement for the zoo’s breeding programme and future of these globally threatened birds.
The corncrake, which is known for its loud raspy ‘crex crex’ call, was commonly heard calling in the British countryside about 80 years ago but became threatened by the introduction of mechanical and intensive farming methods in the 1990s – destroying nests and young birds.
The project involves releasing hand-reared corncrakes which have been bred and reared at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and then transferred as chicks to rearing pens at the Nene Washes. Finally, as young adult birds they are released into the wild. Corncrakes are only summer visitors to the UK, so in autumn the birds migrate to central Africa to spend the winter.
ZSL Senior Keeper and head of corncrake breeding at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Jamie Graham, said: "This is fantastic news and it's great to know that birds we have bred here have made it back safely from migration. It means the project is showing very promising signs that a sustainable population is being created at the Nene Washes from a captive bred group.
"ZSL has many years’ experience of captive breeding at its zoos which has helped to conserve endangered species. The intensive corncrake rearing program - which includes hourly feeds for the little chicks and constant monitoring of the breeding pens - has already shown that captive-bred birds can be reintroduced to the wild and give a huge boost to the future of a threatened but very much loved species."
The project is a joint partnership with the RSPB, Natural England and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and began in 2001.
Last year saw a record number of birds released – more than 100 – with this year’s season already off to a great start.
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Notes to editors
- The corncrake is one of the most threatened breeding bird species in the UK. It started to disappear from the English countryside more than a century ago, because of the introduction of mechanized and intensive farming methods. Today this relative of the more familiar coot and moorhen only breeds in Britain and north and west of Scotland where conservationists have been working intensively with local crofters and landowners to ensure the bird’s continued survival.
- Corncrakes are related to moorhens, coots and rails but differ from most members of the family because they live on dry land.
- After release the birds will migrate to Africa and on average 10% will return.
- Breeding is carried out at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo where the eggs are incubated and hatched. The chicks are then fed around the clock on the hour for the first 4-5 days. After 10-14 days they are taken to the Nene Washes for release, once they are health checked and provided they are the correct weight.
- The secretive corncrakes nest in hay meadows and other grasslands where there is dense vegetation.