Two pairs of corncrakes have been recorded on Rathlin Island for the first time in 30 years.
The RSPB has announced that the two pairs of the ground-nesting birds were recorded on the island for the first time since the 1980s, making it now the only location in Northern Ireland that is home to the red-listed species.
The charity has described the corncrake, known for their distinctive “crex-crex” call, as one of the rarest and most secretive birds.
RSPB Rathlin Island Warden Liam McFaul said it has been an exceptional year for corncrakes.
“It’s fantastic and really encouraging that the work we’re doing for corncrakes is making a difference,” he said.
“It’s been an exceptional year because for the first time since the 1980s we have two calling corncrakes and this is brilliant.
“The birds have two broods and the second brood will be hatching in late July.
“Hopefully we will see their numbers increase and get a sustainable population, with four or five pairs regularly breeding, and this feels more achievable after this landmark year.
“Each breeding pair can produce up to 16 eggs each breeding season, although there is a high mortality rate with these birds.
“Increasing corncrake numbers could be a big tourism benefit for Rathlin.
“People travel to Tory Island in Donegal just because of the corncrakes there.”
The recording comes after efforts by RSPB volunteers to help the species.
“We’ve been creating areas of early cover over the last 15 years or so,” said Mr McFaul.
“This has involved teams of volunteers on the mainland over the winter digging up nettle rhizomes because that’s ideal habitat for corncrakes.
“If you plant them they grow early in the season and that encourages the birds to come in.
“Nettles are brilliant because it creates this open structure where the birds can hide below them and work away through the vegetation.
“The nettles hold a lot of invertebrates and insects that they can feed on so it’s like their shelter, their hiding place and their food store all in one.”
After the second brood hatches later this month, the birds are expected to migrate back to Africa in August or September.
The RSPB has warned that corncrakes are easily spooked and urged members of the public not to try and get close or disturb the birds.