Its breeding habitat is not marshes as with most crakes, but, as the name implies, meadows and arable farmland. It breeds across Europe and western Asia, migrating to Africa in winter.
It is in steep decline across most of its range because modern farming practices mean that nests and birds are destroyed by mowing or harvesting before breeding is finished. The best place to look for or listen for them in the UK is in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. In Ireland, the best place to hear the birds is the island of Inishbofin, Galway, off the coast of County Galway. In 2008 a decline of about 8% in the number of "calling males" was noticed.
The adult Corn Crake is 22–25 cm (8.6–9.8 in) long with a wingspan of between 46–53 cm (19–21 in). It weighs between 125–210 g (4.5–7.5 ounces).
It has mainly brown, heavily spotted upper parts, a blue-grey head and neck, and reddish streaked flanks. It has a short bill and shows chestnut wings and long dangling legs in flight.
The sexes are similar, but in the immature bird the blue-grey is replaced by buff. The downy chicks are black, as with all rails.
The Corn Crake is very secretive in the breeding season, and heard far more often than it is seen. It is hard to flush, walking away through the vegetation. The song, mainly heard at night and very early morning, is a repetitive, far-carrying crex crex, like two notched sticks being rubbed together. This bird feeds mainly on insects, as well as seeds, shoots and frogs.