How are Cornish Choughs doing?
Updates from the RSPB (also see the Chough blog at www.cornishchoughs.org)
Choughs can be vulnerable to disturbance and the RSPB and a team of dedicated volunteers will continue to monitor and protect all Chough nests in the county during the breeding season. To protect nest sites during this time, any Chough sightings reported to CBWPS will be passed to the RSPB, but we will not publish them on our website.
Choughs the 2015 breeding season news
Early March saw the chough team watching eight pairs and wondering how many of them would settle down to nest proper. One female had lost her mate over the winter but was being seen in the company of a new partner, so we were very interested to see how this new partnership would work out. The new male was none other than one of the Cot Valley boys, a male/male pair that had been together for many years. By early April this new pair and six of the others (including the other Cot Valley male who had found a mate too, and a new young first time pair), had settled into a routine. Nests had been built and eggs were being laid. The eighth pair, two siblings on the Roseland, although for a while looking like they were getting serious with nest building, in the end lost interest (we think are the same sex).
By mid April a ninth pair looked likely for a while as two young birds were seen prospecting for a nest site and indulging in a flurry of nest making, but this was short-lived.
Unfortunately the new/old pair at the Porthgwarra site had their chicks predated, a raven was seen by volunteers entering what we thought to be a very safe and tucked away nest, a very sad end for this pair’s first attempt.
In mid May, Tony Cross came down from Wales accompanied by Matt who is now ringing choughs on the Gower and we all spent a very long day getting round the sites and ringing the chicks. Well most of the chicks. One of the new sites proved a little too tricky and time consuming to access so the decision was made to crack on and get the others done. In all 13 chicks were colour ringed, the other brood would be a nice surprise when we got to watch them fledge a few weeks later! Productivity was not the best it’s been this season with a couple of single chicks, but the Lizard pair, having swapped their nest site to another round the corner did the business with five which was good to see. Info from Wales is that broods were also on the small size this year too.
Fledging was in full swing in early June and the first to spring the nest was the ‘surprise’ brood of three, soon followed by most of the others. A mine shaft site held on to its inhabitants for nearly an extra two weeks before one youngster made it out, it’s sibling we think must have gone down instead of up as it has not been seen.
Non breeding birds are joining up with new families and a few of these immature birds are making regular visits to the north Penwith coast. Will this be the next area to be watching more closely? Roll on 2016!
All in all another good year for Cornwall’s very own choughs.
Thanks to all who help keep a protective eye on them- and to everyone that sends in their sightings.
November 2014 Update
Numbers of choughs in Cornwall continue to increase with 2014 being another good breeding season for them (five pairs raised 17 young), and over 50% of them have survived their first few months. Around the far west of Cornwall, particularly the St Just area, good sized flocks can often be seen (up to 16 birds) and a walk anywhere between Porthcurno and Pendeen will likely be successful. The tip of the Lizard, around the Roseland and the north coast between Perranporth and Padstow are all areas where you are likely to see them.
Please do send in your sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org
February 2013 Chough News from the RSPB.
December Chough News from the RSPB.
On the Lizard we are getting reports up to 10 choughs being seen around Old Lizard Head and Kynance, amongst these ‘chatterings’ appears to be the five resident adults along with some of last year’s youngsters and the occasional appearance of the two year old who until recently spent most of his time west of Porthleven. Smaller groups have been seen as far along the coast as Perranuthnoe.
Over in West Penwith, the birds are well established in their Autumn / Winter routine and can be found roaming the coast between Pendeen and Lamorna. We are still getting regular sightings of the resident adults and some of last year’s young, who seem to be making their way up along the north coast. There is a group of seven choughs spending time between Newquay and Trevose. There have also been some exciting reports of birds in and around the St.Ives and Godrevy area and as you know from Claire’s last update, we have also had a very exciting report, and video footage of an unringed chough on Scilly. Unfortunately, as many of you will have seen from our blog (http://www.cornishchoughs.org/ ), this bird was unfortunately predated, it is suspected by corvids. We hope to get some DNA work done to find out where it came from, and will let you know if we find anything.
Please keep your sightings coming in, even if you think ‘they must know that already’. Sightings can be sent by email to email@example.com or by text to 07764 230246.
November Chough News from the RSPB.
On 30th Oct an unringed chough turned up on St Martin’s on the Isles of Scilly. (Definitely unringed, watch the whole of the video on this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOSrB6qmN5k&feature=plcp)
Also on 30th Oct an unringed chough was seen near Cape Cornwall. It has yet to be worked out if they are the same bird. For the past two winters an unringed chough has turned up in West Cornwall (disappearing in Spring), is this the same bird, has it brought a friend along with it? Who knows? Yet! Interestingly, there was also a chough on Lundy, Devon yesterday as well.
If you are planning on going out walking over the next few days/weeks, perhaps you could head off to the coast? It would be good to get a full picture of how many birds are out there. You can report your sightings directly to CBWPS by email or by text to Claire Mucklow of the RSPB on 07764 230246.
As well as the Lizard, (from Black Head to Perranuthnoe), there is the Pendeen-Lamorna stretch of coast, and reports over the last few months suggest Pendeen/St Ives and the St Agnes to Pentire/Polzeath bit too (birds have been concentrated between Watergate bay and Porthcothan). Not like the old days when you just needed to walk from Southerly Point to Kynance to find the whole Cornish chough population, a nice problem to have!
August 22nd 2012
The youngsters from this year’s broods have dispersed, some further afield than others. Penwith youngsters have been seen around St Ives and near Zennor and last week were around the St Ages area (up to ten birds recorded) and Watergate Bay. Lizard young are venturing west as far as Perranuthnoe. Survival this year has been remarkably good with 15 of the 18 young accounted for still. An interesting record from out of Cornwall came from Gatwick airport!! If you see choughs while you are out and about, please don’t forget to send us your records, even if you think ‘they must know already’ – firstname.lastname@example.org all records are entered onto our database. Website: www.cornishchoughs.org Twitter: www.twitter.com/cornishchoughs
18th July 2012
Another great season with a total of 18 chicks from five broods. Two on the Lizard, two in Penwith and one on the north coast. Although the weather has been truly awful the choughs seem to be faring well and the post fledging survival of the chicks has been remarkable with only three of the 18 lost so far. It is not unusual for a large brood to be whittled down by one or two as the youngsters sometimes struggle to keep up with each other/adults and get left behind so they do not get as much food, are more vocal and more likely to attract predators. Sadly, one of the chicks from the new north coast brood has been predated too, but the fact that this pair managed to raise young after a rocky start to the season (they lost a clutch of eggs to a raven) is fantastic. A new pair also made an attempt at nesting, so that’s encouraging for next season, and of course the two males are still very much together and are technically counted as a breeding pair. Some impressive chatterings have been seen, twelve choughs in the air at once – a fantastic sight. Please keep a look out for choughs and report your sightings as this is the time of year when the youngsters are becoming independent and can turn up in unexpected places.
2012 has been a hard breeding season for many birds, fortunately the unseasonal weather has not affected the choughs too badly and they have had another fantastic season. This year there were 5 nests to monitor across Cornwall. The fantastic news is that from these 5 nests, 18 chicks have fledged successfully, another record breaking year. We are delighted to see yet another year with 100 % fledging rate and we couldn’t do it without the help of all the staff and volunteers involved in the project, many thanks. All of the young have taken to the wing very well and are spreading further along the coast. As they find their independence it is getting increasingly hard to keep track of them , so if you do see choughs, your sightings would be much appreciated, please email them to email@example.com
University of Aberdeen update (2nd July) – Irish choughs invade Cornwall
The red-billed chough stands proud on the Cornish coat of arms but the species became extinct in the Duchy in 1947, denuding Cornwall of one of its most charismatic birds and cultural symbols. That was until three choughs of unknown origin appeared in Cornwall in 2001 and founded a new breeding population, restoring the ‘Cornish chough’ to its historic home and causing great excitement among birdwatchers and conservationists alike. But where did the three pioneer choughs come from?
Until now, they were speculated to have travelled from chough populations in south Wales or Brittany. But now some clever genetic detective work has suggested that the Cornish pioneers came from even further afield – Ireland. Researchers collected moulted feathers that were naturally dropped by the Cornish choughs, and by Choughs in other populations across Europe. Scientists from the University of Aberdeen then extracted DNA from the feather tips, and compared the DNA sequences of the new Cornish choughs with those of choughs living elsewhere. By far the best match to the Cornish Choughs was the Irish Choughs, suggesting an unexpected Celtic origin for the new Cornish birds.
Dr Jane Reid, Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University, said: “We would never have known the origin of the new Cornish choughs without the DNA analysis – we didn’t guess that they would have come from Ireland.”
Claire Mucklow, of the RSPB, added: ‘We assumed those intrepid colonists would have come from closer populations, how wonderful that they have turned out to be Irish! The return of choughs to Cornwall has been very significant, not just in terms of conservation but in terms of Cornwall’s cultural heritage.”
With recent sightings of Welsh choughs in north Devon, there is potential for a merging of Celtic chough diversity in southwest England, which researchers say can only be positive for the future prospects of this enigmatic species.
The research that identified the origin of the Cornish choughs was lead by Marius Wenzel, Dr Jane Reid and Dr Stuart Piertney at the University of Aberdeen.
Wenzel, M.A., Webster, L.M.I., Blanco, G., Burgess, M.D., Kerbiriou, C., Segelbacher, G., Piertney, S.B. & Reid, J.M. (2012) Pronounced genetic structure and low genetic diversity in European red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) populations. Conservation Genetics published online.
Issued by the Communications Team,University of Aberdeen, King’s College, Regent Walk. Tel; 01224 273174. Contact: Jennifer Phillips.
8th June 2012
The Cornwall Chough Project team (RSPB, National Trust and Natural England) are delighted to announce that Cornwall’s choughs have had another fantastic year. Five nests have successfully produced more than 16 youngsters (one nest has not been checked but has chicks). The project has also witnessed what it believes to be the earliest fledging ever recorded in the UK with some young chough on the wing by third week in May.
At Southerly Point on the Lizard where the long-standing pair have nested every year since 2002, the brood is expected to take to the wing next week. The project is inviting the public to come down and see them, with the watch point open 10-5 every day weather permitting until 17th June. The project is particularly grateful to the growing team of volunteers who have helped keep track of all the birds, ensure their nests are undisturbed and run the watch point.
If members of the public would like to catch up with the choughs and all the latest news there is a special Wildlife Weekend on the Lizard 23/24 June with lots of free activities for all the family.
Some good Chough news to share! Tony Cross who comes down from Wales each year to ring the Cornish Choughs was here last Friday and had a new record of 16 young choughs ringed this year (6 males, 6 females and 4 unknown sex) from 4 nest sites on the Lizard and West Penwith. Very good to finally see who we’ve been watching get fed for the last month or so!
Those are good sized clutches so fingers crossed that they all will continue to do well after leaving the nest, and we can continue to see the Cornwall chough population increasing year to year. Tony tells us that the Welsh populations they study (which continue to decline) tend to have a survival rate of 10% on average, and the Cornish chough survival rate has been around 20% or a bit higher. Therefore, to help them get the best start possible we need to continue our close observations the first week once they leave the nest and are most vulnerable to human disturbance, especially from dogs off leash, which could quickly result in tragedy. Signs will be put up on the coast paths to make path walkers aware of the choughs and ask them to keep their dogs under control, so hopefully that will prevent most people from unknowingly disturbing the birds.
Good luck Choughs and thank you everyone for your help so far!
As we move into the breeding season the choughs are already nest building so we hope for another good year?
Four pairs were successful in fledging 15 young last season out of the six pairs that attempted to breed, (one pair had their eggs predated and the 6th pair are both male (but are still counted as a pair as if they were not ringed we would not know they were both male so would be assuming they were an unproductive pair)). There are young birds around in the north of Cornwall so should be interesting to see if they pair up and start practising. As usual we now keep specific Chough records off the website to aid nest security but please keep sending sightings in to, as per usual, CBWPS and cornishchoughs.org
In the Lizard Just before Xmas we were getting sighting reports of a chattering of seven choughs, a fantastic sight at this time of year. Unfortunately, this dropped to six as we entered the New Year. The birds in this group are the two Lizard pairs, one of the local bachelors and the surviving male from last year’s Southerly Point brood, so unfortunately, it looks like we may have lost the young female. We are hoping she has just slipped off up the coast to find a mate as we race toward the breeding season.
In West Penwith All seems well with the two breeding pairs still on territory. The exciting news is that we have had further reports of an unringed bird in the west. The origin of this bird is unknown but it is being seen regularly. (Please note if you do see an unringed chough outside of the Lizard Peninsula it is extremely unlikely to be one of the Southerly Point pair, do keep us informed.)
The North Coast The young pair up north are still in the same area. The young group of four have unfortunately become a three and are spending most of their time in the Newquay area.
Please keep your sighting reports coming in, even if it is just “where, when and how many”. You can email sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org
Breaking News – 10th November 2011
The unringed Chough has been spotted near Porthgwarra . The last time this bird was seen was July, it would be great to keep track of its movements, so if you do get a chance to see this ellusive Chough please do let us know.
Otherwise, this month there is very little to report except that the two Lizard young that have been spending a lot of time around Cudden Point have been seen in West Penwith so keep an eye out for them too. We also had a sighting of six Choughs at Housel Bay last week, which we presume to be the six adult birds.
Has anyone seen any Choughs east of the Lizard? We have had a few sporadic reports of Choughs at Coverack and wondered if this was the resident Lizard birds making their way east or whether we have young birds on that side of the coast too. Perhaps you could let us know if you have seen them. Help us monitor the Choughs movements over winter by emailing sightings to email@example.com or giving one of us a call.
October 2011 Chough Update from the RSPBThe cliffs are looking fantastically bronzed with the onset of Autumn. As Summer finally gives up, the birds are becoming much easier to keep track of, they seem fairly settled in a routine now, except for a few exciting happenings and unusual movements, which are keeping us on our toes.
So, what are the birds up to?
In the Lizard Recently we have had some exciting sightings of a chattering of seven choughs around the Housel Bay and Southerly Point area. We can confirm that they are the two breeding pairs, one of the single males and two of the youngsters from this year’s Southerly Point nest that were spending a lot of time around Perranuthnoe. Over the past week these two young birds have been seen more regularly on the Lizard. Will the older single male catch the young female’s attention? At the moment she and her brother are inseparable and the older male seems preoccupied with tagging along with the Southerly Point pair.
In West Penwith all seems well with the two breeding pairs mostly on territory, the boys are making trips to Land’s End and the lone female generally splits her time between the Botallack pair and the boys.
The north coast The young group of four are venturing further and further along the north coast towards Padstow, they were at Trevose Head a few days ago. We are getting regular sightings of a group of four but sometimes three birds. Has anyone seen a single chough along this stretch of coast? We haven’t yet worked out where it is going and why it is pulling away from the group.
As you know it has been the best breeding season to date, and although many of the young are proving hard to find, we are getting regular sightings of at least five of the fifteen fledglings. So far, we have not had any negative reports, i.e.: found rings or remains, which would indicate there are other young birds out there escaping our attention. Please keep your eyes and ears open for the choughs and keep those sighting reports coming in, even if it is just “where, when and how many”. You can email sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Lizard
The two breeding pairs in the Lizard are settling into their Autumn / Winter routine and travelling along the coast, feeding both east and west of Southerly Point, with the occasional report as far west as Loe Bar. This might well tie in with the fact that two of the 2011 Southerly Point brood are spending a lot of time between Perranuthnoe and Predannack.
The two lone Lizard males are still holding territory at their zawns on the east coast. One of the males is meeting up regularly with the breeding pairs but the other leads a much more solitary existence. Reports from as far as Coverack are coming in, do these relate to these males or young birds perhaps?
In West Penwith
All the adult birds are still holding their territories foraging away in stubble fields and along favourite cliffs. The young from Penwith this year have had mixed fortunes. Unfortunately, the three young from the Botallack brood that formed part of the magnificent seven, and were missing in action, haven’t been sighted since the end of June but the other two, plus two from the other Penwith brood, have spread their wings and headed north, which brings us to…
The North Coast
There are now at least six choughs between Perranporth and Padstow!
Four of this year’s young from Penwith have headed to the surfing capital of Cornwall and have been seen around Watergate Bay and Mawgan Porth, the area they were last found in the 1960s/70s.
Fifteen Chough chicks fledged from four Cornish nests this season. The family groups are still together with most of the youngsters surviving their first month. The Southerly Point family are roaming quite a distance and have been seen around Mullion and Porthleven recently, whilst in Penwith the cliffs around Land’s End seem to be a favourite place for one of the families. The young birds will gain their independence towards the end of the month so it will be interesting to see how far they all go this year and what their survival rate will be as they learn to fend for themselves. News on any of our birds would be most welcome even if the rings cannot be read. Claire Mucklow
In Penwith the two males around Cot, may have dropped to one but two of the 2009 Lizard young are being seen at Cot Valley and another pair around the Botallack area. Are the others around Gwennap? On the Lizard 5 of the 6 birds are ok, one female has disappeared (but there has been a chough seen on the Isle of Wight….who knows it could be her). Any news on our birds would be most welcome even if the rings cannot be read.
The 2010 young choughs have not been having the best of luck. Three were lost to predators just after fledging, and now two more have succumbed to the forces of nature. Sadly, but astonishingly one Lizard young male was found freshly dead floating a mile out to sea from Portwrinkle by a fisherman! This just shows the distances choughs will travel, especially young birds. There has also been a record of a chough in south Devon at Start Point so perhaps it was traveling with a sibling. The very next day another youngster’s remains were found at Predannack by a visitor and reported in, showing just how important colour ringing is to understanding what happens with our Cornish choughs. There have been no other recent sightings of the remaining young except a male, down around Cape Cornwall, who is still associating with his parents and a chatter of other choughs in the area. .All sightings as always are much appreciated. Please endeavour to note details of rings, location, date and time and pass on the information to email@example.com or to Claire Mucklow at the RSPB at Exeter (tel 01392 453775).
Five pairs of choughs attempted to breed this season, two established pairs and three pairs of young birds (two year old females and males of assorted ages). Four nests got to the chick stage, but one was sadly predated. Nine chicks fledged between the three remaining nests, four from the Lizard Point pair (their ninth brood), three young from the west Cornwall pair (their third brood) and two from another site on the Lizard. As of mid July six of the nine fledged young are still surviving. Last year’s six surviving immature birds are to be found in Penwith, between Lamorna and Pendeen, with two roaming the north coast as far as Newquay.
There are 10 choughs in Penwith between Pendeen and Gwennap Head, a good place to catch up with them is around Cot Valley. On the Lizard there are eight birds. Sadly the breeding female from Porthleven area disappeared towards end of November, her mate is on the lookout for a new female. Total number of known Choughs in the county is 20.
More volunteers are needed to help protect the nests this season. Don’t let egg thieves get their hands on our Chough eggs!
12th November 2009
The four young birds from this years Lizard brood, plus the two surviving young from the West Penwith pair, are still around the Cape Cornwall area, sometimes making forays to Gwennap Head. There was a a record of a chough at St.Ives recently which may possibly be a male born on the Lizard in 2007, carrying an orange/white leg ring. A pair can be seen in the Porthleven area, though they may head off to Perranuthnoe area like they did last winter. On the Lizard, thanks to some detective work by Ali and Keith, we now know the whereabouts of three pairs, plus of course the original Lizard pair. Southerly Point to Kynance still seems to be the favourite area to track them down. That makes at least 21 choughs! Clair Mucklow RSPB Projects Manager for Cornwall
More volunteers are needed to help protect the nests next spring. Don’t let egg theives get their hands on our chough eggs! Contact Roger Hooper or Claire at firstname.lastname@example.org
The West Penwith pair and two young are doing well. First breeding in this area for 150 years, another little bit of chough history. There are now at least six choughs to be found along the coast between Pendeen to Porthcurno. The Lizard family have been travelling up and down the west coast, meeting up with the immature flock, at times up to twelve choughs can be seen in the air at once! Soon the four young females will become independent and hopefully join the older more experienced birds and get through the critical August/Xmas period.
Any sightings as always much appreciated. please endeavour to note details of rings, location, date and time and pass on the information to email@example.com or to Claire Mucklow at the RPSB at Exeter (tel 01392 432691).
picture Matt Sallis
Three Choughs arrived on the Lizard peninsula in south-west Cornwall early in 2001. Two of the birds paired up, the third leaving the area. The pair nested successfully in 2002, the first breeding in England for fifty years.
They have bred annually since, raising a total of 20 young. In 2006 a second pair bred. They are made up of a male from the 2004 Lizard brood and an unringed female. Three young fledged, making a total of eight young this year. A third pair built a nest but the female was found dead.
In north-west Europe, Choughs still breed in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Brittany. In 1992 there were 342 pairs in Britain and the Isle of Man. Elsewhere in Europe, the birds breed in mountains from Iberia, through the Alps to Greece and Turkey.
Because of fears of persecution, the birds are protected by a round-the-clock watch by RSPB staff and local volunteers from CBWPS.
Choughs forage on grassy cliff tops, grazed by cattle, for their food, consisting mainly of insects and other small invertebrates. The Chough’s gradual population decline throughout the last century has been attributed to the reduction of cliff top grazing and more intensive farming methods. The Chough’s return crowns nearly 10 years’ hard work in Cornwall to provide suitable areas for nesting and feeding. This has been achieved through agreements with local landowners, and farmers managing their land for nature conservation, supported in some areas by DEFRA’s Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
The RSPB, National Trust, English Nature and the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) acknowledge the considerable help provided from local people and volunteers, who watch over the nesting location to prevent disturbance and ward off egg collectors.
The original adult pair can usually be found in their home range between Lizard Point and Kynance. Other birds may be seen anywhere from the Lizard to Marazion, and on the coast in the far west around Lands End and St.Just.
All of the young birds have been colour-ringed and sexed by Tony Cross in collaboration with the RSPB, to enable their progress and movements to be monitored. Details:
2002: 3 chicks fledged, all males
2003: 3 chicks fledged, 2 males and 1 female
2004: 4 chicks fledged, 2 males, 2 females
2005: 5 chicks fledged, 2 males, 3 females
2006: 8 chicks fledged from 2 nests, 5 males, 3 females
2007: 9 chicks fledged from 2 nests, 6 males, 3 females
2008: 6 chicks fledged from 2 nests
If you see any Choughs in Cornwall, please endeavour to note details of rings, location, date and time and pass on the information to webmaster or to Claire Mucklow at the RPSB at Exeter (tel 01392 432691).
Squabbling Choughs: Sept 29th 2006
While looking over the small fields by the coast path my attention was drawn to a great commotion among the crows and jackdaws . I went over there, which took some five minutes, during which time the crow commotion continued. They were diving onto something on the ground and I expected to see a jackdaw in the talons of a peregrine, or something similar, and was very surprised to see two choughs on the ground locked in what appeared to be mortal combat. They continued fiercely fighting and calling as I approached and more concerned with the battle than me. I was reluctant to let the fight continue as the last thing we need is for one of our choughs to be killed by another. I became convinced that one would be killed or injured if the fight continued, so decided to separate them by approaching closer. It was not until I was within twenty metres that they separated. They circled around for a minute or two and then settled back to where the fight took place right in front of me. I could see the rings on their legs but had no note book. I remember them as definitely lime over black (with orange or yellow over metal on the other leg), and definitely reddish over reddish (with either yellow or orange over metal on the other). They were probably the two males I’ve recorded here since January. The birds then seemed to behave perfectly amicably towards each other, staying close together for the next hour, when I left them sitting on a stone wall. Roy Phillips
Photographs of Choughs on the Lizard by Richard Bedford (1st and 3rd photos) and Andy Pay (2nd and 4th photos).
See www.richardbedford.co.uk for more images.
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