An image showing just how special and close the bond was between the old Lizard pair of choughs. Looks like they have either just taken a bath or are sheltering from the rain on their favourite ledge at Southerly Point.
Anthony Miners 2012
End of an era
The last week has been one of both tremendous highs and lows for us in Cornwall.
We are very sad to have to report the loss of our wonderful male chough from Southerly Point on the Lizard. Just over a week ago a volunteer witnessed two choughs locked in combat for the most part of the day, and it appears that a younger bird has ousted and probably killed the older male. We always joke ‘they will live forever’ when people ask how long the pair at Southerly Point will be around, but sadly choughs are not invincible and nature in all its rawness has won the day. An end of an era, and the loss of a very special bird.
What a legacy that chough and his mate have left Cornwall with though. Since they returned in 2001 they have brought so much joy to those lucky enough to spend time with them and a real sense of Cornish pride enveloped them. The pair together raised 44 chicks and many of those birds have gone on to breed themselves, securing a future for choughs in Cornwall. Proper job!
But, there is a happier twist to this tale. The new male, a bird often seen in the company of the Lizard pair, has adopted the old male’s chicks – extraordinary, as normally a bird would try to kill any chicks that were not his. This is new behaviour, possibly not previously recorded for choughs. The female having invested so much time and energy in her new brood has accepted this new male and together they are feeding her two chicks, which are around two weeks old. Here’s hoping the female and her new mate will live for many a year to come.
Talking of chicks, there are already chough fledglings! Five youngsters have already taken to the skies. The crazy weather has really affected the breeding season with six weeks between first and last broods, the last chicks will not fledge until early July. The total number of young for this season is 16, two broods of five, and three broods of two. There are a further three pairs of choughs that have shown signs of breeding but they are too young this year.
Here are two photos of the Lizard male, we will post some more over coming days as a tribute to him.
We had a very exciting day on Tuesday. I was on the dawn shift at Southerly Point. I hadn’t seen “wing nor feather” of the choughs all morning. Just as myself and Terry (a local photographer) were getting distracted by the local gulls, out popped one of the choughs at a very lazy 0825. At first we thought it was a jackdaw because it had a beak full of what looked like food….but no…of course we were past the 21 day mark….it was eggshell!!
The chough flew past us on the watchpoint, towards the Polbream Cove, where we thought it would drop the eggshell into the sea. Tthey normally do this to get rid of the smell (i.e.destroy the evidence) of having chicks. He (or she, but probably he) then turned full circle and came back over the café. Again we thought he would fly back toward the nest and drop it over the sea, but no! He didn’t fly right round the café and over the lifeboat as normal, but instead he came over the back of the café and literally flicked the eggshell amongst the tables and chairs, just metres away from Terry and I, as if to say “Here, look we’ve done it. Our eggs have HATCHED!”
Terry managed to catch a quick snap of the chough with the eggshell on its’ way past (at the top), and I took some pics of the freshly hatched eggshell for interest (above). Though, it can be hard not to, I never try to read too much into these things, but that is one moment that certainly made me question whether it was by pure chance or intention on the choughs part? A lot of folk are certain that choughs and other crows can recognise regular faces. I guess we’ll never know – but it was certainly very magic, and a moment I will never forget.
Huge thanks goes out to all of our volunteers, for helping to look after these amazing birds. With your effort we have managed to get the 12th set of eggs from the Southerly Point pair through to the chick stage.
Here in the Lizard, you can get great views from our watchpoint as the adults bring food into the cave to feed their hungry chicks. This will continue for 6 weeks until the chicks fledge which we expect to be around the 3rd July. Come and join us watching these magnificent crows. The watchpoint is open daily from 11am – 4pm (weather permitting). It would be great to see you.
- Catherine Lee (Lizard Chough Watch)
What a long wait it’s been – most of the chough pairs have been holding out for better weather, but it’s full steam ahead with females now sitting on eggs (one early pair already has chicks). Here’s some images of nests from previous years – chicks of various ages. Nests are built of twiggy stuff sometimes even including dead brambles and lined with soft material – if there are sheep around their wool is preferred but the choughs in Cornwall don’t nest that near sheep pastures so they make do with grasses and if they can get it cattle hair.
The unseasonably cool weather has meant the choughs in Cornwall, like many other species, are delaying their breeding activity this year. Usually we would expect females to be incubating their eggs by now, but some pairs seem to be holding off and our famous friends down at Southerly Point are only now getting around to building their nest. We are hearing from Wales that their choughs have not really got going yet either. Weather certainly influences timing of breeding, as during past warm Spring seasons the choughs have been two weeks earlier.
Re-reading ‘Birds in Cornwall’ by Col Ryves, the other day (written in the 1930s), the choughs then were nesting even later than this, so not to worry – the birds know what they are doing.