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The once common corncrake Bill Bouton via Flickr/Creative Commons
bird numbers

Last corncrake on Shannon probably dead

Irish bird threatened with global extinction, conservationists tell, as bird numbers all over Ireland falling because of wet weather.

The only corncrake left on the Shannon river is probably dead, according to conservationists, leaving Donegal and Mayo as the only two counties  where the once widespread bird remains.

Speaking to, Kathryn Finney of Birdwatch Ireland said the seventh successive summer of flooding on Ireland’s longest river had probably wiped out the last of the population of ground nesting birds, which numbered 60 calling males in 2000.

“There was one only corncrake left in the Shannon Callows, the flood plain between Athlone and Portumna, but the flooding has probably washed him away” said Finney, who works as BirdWatch Ireland’s Breeding Wader Management Officer.

Corncrakes only live for about 3 years. They have two broods during the summer so in order for the population to remain stable, both broods need to stay stable.  They would have been on eggs when the floods rose. They should be on them now, but all the suitable habitat has gone.

Conservation measures had stabilised falling numbers, she said, but the start of summer flooding in 2000 saw numbers fall to 22.

“Summer flooding in the callows is regarded as a one in 20 year event. Now we’re getting it almost every year.”

Local TD Denis Naughten today called on the National Parks & Wildlife Service to facilitate the immediate cleaning of silt from the River Shannon in order to protect the corncrake, which has the same conservation status as the panda and Bengal tiger. However, it would seem any measures to do so are now too late.

Ireland now receives 15 per cent more rain than it did in the 1970s, says Met Eireann, which has drastically affected insect numbers on the island.

This has had a knock on effect on many birds who feed off of them.

According to the National Biodiversity Centre in Waterford, butterfly numbers fell by almost 50 per cent last year and will be low again in 2012.

“Numbers will be low this year, very low,” Dr Eugenue Reagan of the centre told

The number of butterflies almost halved last year for some species and the flying insect population is way down. That has a knock on effect because birds can’t get enough food.
The problem is that we’ve already put a huge amount of pressure on our wildlife with over-intensification of agriculture. The wetness doesn’t make things better. Unless you are a freshwater bird. Ducks are very happy with this weather.

Bats have been particularly badly affected, said Tina Aughney of Bat Conservation Ireland.

“Bats gave birth a lot later this year, by about three to four weeks which means juveniles will fly later which means they won’t build up fat reserves in time for the winter.”

They’re turning up on the ground, very weak and lethargic because it is raining. There’s no let up in the rain. It’s consistent. There has not been one night where it has been solidly dry and warm, which stops animals from feeding on insects.

She urged anyone who saw bats on the ground to pick them up carefully with a glove or tea cloth, as they could only fly by dropping themselves into the air.

The wet weather has also affected some birds on the coast.

A Little Tern colony in Wicklow has been virtually wiped out, said Dick Coombes, an ornithologist with Birdwatch Ireland in Wicklow.

“We had 86 nests on June bank holiday for what is quite a rare sea bird. But on the night of the 3rd of June, all but three or four were washed away.”

We’ve always had rain. But it is the heavy down-bursts which are having the worst effect. Birds can cope with rain. They have insulation and waterproof feathers. But nests can’t cope with it. Even the cavity nesters, robins and blue tits that nest in tree holes, are completely sodden. They end up getting abandoned and the chicks die of cold.

It will be another year before definite numbers can be put on the impact on bird populations, he told

But the wettest June on record “will have taken its toll” he said.

Ireland’s weather: What does St. Swithin have in store? >

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