Feeling choughed… that they are back

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Choughs are the most stunning and interesting of our crows; and with glossy black plumage, curved crimson-red bill and red legs are unmistakeable. In Cornwall, choughs have been part of Cornish history, from written records since the 13th century.

The old Cornish name was ‘Palores’ or ‘digger’ from how they search for invertebrate food. Although a reintroduction project was planned, the Cornish choughs are genuinely wild, since they arrived anyway before work began. It is believed that just a few birds came over from Ireland or Brittany in 2001 and those which stayed kick-started a re-colonisation process; the rest is history.

RSPB staff and volunteers protect key nesting sites

The good news is that Cornwall’s national emblem is back and again part of the region’s natural heritage. This small influx of wild choughs led to three birds staying on the Lizard in Cornwall and since 2002, they have nested each year at Southerly Point and raised more than 30 youngsters.

There had been a long decline associated with habitat loss, persecution and egg-collecting; the last chough being lost from Cornwall (and hence from England) in 1973. Even then, the last successful breeding had been in 1947.

From the new population, many offspring have survived and gone on to breed, with by 2016, more than 12 pairs scattered along the Cornish coastline. Because choughs are vulnerable to both disturbance and egg collectors, RSPB staff and volunteers protect key nesting sites and monitor the expanding Cornish population.

The conservation project has worked with landowners to restore grassland and heathland habitats along the coastal fringe. An important requirement is for grazing by livestock to create and maintain chough-friendly mosaics of open, short grassland and heath for them to forage for invertebrates.

The chough is easy to tell apart from the jackdaw. The first thing you notice is the loud ringing ‘chee-ow’ call, audible at a good distance. Then the big, broad almost moth-like fingered wings and richly-glossy plumage differ from all the other crow family. Up close of course the bright red legs and bill of the adults are unmistakable. Anyway, I for one am really chuffed they are back.