I was privileged to attend the release of 11 young Corn Crakes at RSPB Nene Washes today, part of a captive breeding and reintroduction programme which it's hoped will see the return of Crex crex to lowland England.
The Corn Crakes were bred in captivity at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park in Bedfordshire before being transported at an early age to the Nene Washes. By the age of 16 days, the young birds 'imprint' on the site where they hatch (or where they think they've hatched!), so it was important to get them to the reserve in time (like other crakes and rails, Corn Crakes are nidifugous - which means they leave the nest almost immediately after hatching and can start to fend for themselves).
At the Nene Washes reserve, the crakes were kept in a purpose-built aviary and fed on insects (lovingly collected by the reserve wardens!) and pellets until they reached the right age for release. Special care was taken to make sure the birds didn't become used to humans - glove puppets were used to deliver meals.
At around 26 days after hatching, it was time to let them go. After catching them from the aviary (easier said than done, apparently), the crakes were weighed, measured, ringed and had a healthcheck from a Whipsnade vet.
Jonathan Taylor (warden) takes notes while Derek Gruar (ringer) checks the crake's ring number.
With a veritable crowd of TV crews, journalists and RSPB/English Nature staff looking on, a crake receives its numbered metal ring.
Wing measurements are taken.
Corn Crake pokes its head out of the bag and has a look around before shooting off into the vegetation. Magic!
The Nene Washes reserve will be their home until they start their migration to Africa. How many will return to breed next year? Who knows!
To read more, click on the links below:
Corncrakes breeding in England after 50 years - The Daily Telegraph
Corncrakes calling - ZSL
Corncrakes make a comeback - RSPB
Corncrakes ready for comeback - BBC
Corncrake to call in England again? - BirdLife International