In size and shape the Corn bird resembles a thickset, short-billed Water Rail, with long legs and a fairly long neck, which is craned upwards when calling. The wings are chestnut, and their colour obvious when seen in flight. The forehead, eyebrow and breast are pale blue-grey, the eye is beady, and the upperparts are brown with the bold blackish centres of the feathers forming strong lines from nape to tail. The flanks are rufous-brown, with white feather tips forming clear vertical bars. A very skulking bird.
A summer visitor, wintering in Africa. Unlike other crakes, Corn bird is not found in marshy and wetland areas but instead favours grassland, damp meadows and pastures, also getting into crops such as clover and cereals. In Britain it occurs mainly in traditionally harvested hay meadows, its survival not being compatible with modern farming methods. Much declined in Britain, and mostly restricted to the Western Isles of Scotland.
Corn bird takes its scientific name from its call, a loud and continuous rasping "crex-crex, crex-crex, crex-crex", given by the male in spring. To different ears it can sound like "grrehhk-grrehhk", "rehhrp-rehhrp" or "eeerkh-eekh". Used as an advertising and territorial call, and also to attract a mate, it can be heard in spring when males often call continually through the night. The call covers a wide spectrum of frequency, and when calling close by, the lower frequencies sound very loud and have a 'ripping' quality. The Corn bird can be lured by imitations such as drawing a fingernail across the tips of a comb, although the first one ever encountered by the author was lured closer using an accordion! Other calls are given -the male has a mewing, grunting growl, the female a cheeping call and a sharp quacking "ook-ook-ook-ack-ack-ack", plus a Moorhen-like call given by either parent in alarm to their young.