You’ll probably hear a male corncrake before you see one. Find out how we’re giving a voice, and a chance, to these endangered farmland birds.

Hard times and hard to spot

The piercing “crex crex” call of the male corncrake once kept country people awake at night, and was a common sound across farmland.  But this elusive migratory bird is on the brink of extinction in Britain today.

How we’re helping

Pensthorpe Conservation Trust has run a captive breeding programme for many years, currently working in partnership with Natural England, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), Zoological Society of London(ZSL) and the RSPB to improve the chances of establishing a new sustainable population in the East of England. The success of our breed and release programme has led to wild-bred birds returning and breeding in East Anglia for the first time in over 50 years.

Four steps to freedom

  1. When our corncrake chicks hatch, we keep a close eye on them to make sure the female corncrake is feeding them and they are growing.
  2. At 14 or 15 days, the chicks are caught, weighed, health checked by a veterinarian and given individual identification rings. They are transported to the release site where they’re kept in pre-release pens for a further three weeks. Here they continue to grow, imprint on the stars and their surroundings.
  3. Between 35 and 40 days old, they are caught out of the pre-release pens, health checked again by a veterinarian, and under licence, the first plastic ring is replaced with a BTO metal ring. They are then released onto the WWT Welney reserve and into the wild.
  4. The chicks are released into good habitat, rich in food, and will stay for the summer months, before migrating in the autumn, to Central Africa, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They make this incredible journey innately and mainly by night, and if successful will return to the area they were released the following spring.

Corncrakes in danger

The UK population of corncrake is in severe decline, despite a successful rescue effort that led to its numbers rallying on the islands of north-west Scotland, rising to 1,289 calling males in 2014, the corncrake’s population has since fallen by more than 30%, to just 850 calling birds in Scotland in 2021.

Now, they are a red-listed species – those in most urgent need of our help. Our breeding programme has never been more vital.

Have you heard a corncrake?

Corncrakes are hard to spot and like to hide in tall vegetation. The males have a distinctive rasping call or ‘crex’. If you think you’ve heard one, email to let us know where and when the sighting took place – and send an audio clip or video if possible.


The Corncrake Crex

Listen to our ambassador Nick Acheson explain our work in helping repopulate corncrakes in the East of England