Chough 2017 Summary

At the beginning of the season we announced that we were watching 13 pairs but the final count of those that successfully bred was six. So what happened?

Pair 1: the female disappeared over winter but the odd report of two birds in this area left us hopeful. However, only last years breeding male could be found.

Pair 2: four chicks successfully fledged.

Pair 3: Nest building and courting behaviour seen but nothing more happened. We assume the female is too young to breed.

Pair 4: This pair chose to build a nest in a cave on a beach. After completing the nest no more happened.  Possibly, the female is too young. However, they would have also been disturbed by beach users which may have put them off trying.

Pair 5: this is an established breeding pair but midway during the hatching period (once hatched, chicks stay in the nest for five weeks before fledging), the adults were seen carrying nest materials. This is an indication that all was not well and something had happened to the chicks. However, nest building was brief and they continued to visit the original nest site as if they still had chicks. On checking the nest, we found it empty and presumed predation.

Pair 6: This pair were monitored nest building but lost interest. They were of breeding age so it may have been down to human disturbance by climbers/kayakers or predator disturbance.

Pair 7: This nest was visited with four chicks ringed but only three fledged.

Pair 8: One chick fledged.

Pair 9: four chicks fledged.

Pair 10: Failed for the second year running. We are wondering whether even though this nest site was used with great success by another pair for seven years, the local ravens have finally figured out how to access it.

Pair 11: The story of the season! It appears that after the females period of sitting on the eggs, her partner disappeared and she was left to bring up her chick which she fledged successfully on her own. However, a young male has joined forces with her.  After initial disagreements, they seem to have settled down as a family of three.

Pair 12: one chick fledged.

Pair 13:  After attempting to nest build, they gave up and moved off down the coast.

NB when an adult bird 'disappears' it is more likely due to natural mortality i.e illness, killed in fight or predated.

Photo by Chough Watcher Paul Mason.

 

A challenging year for Cornish Choughs

After a successful 2016, with a fantastic number of pairs and fledging chicks, 2017 has been ‘challenging’ for the Cornish choughs.   An unfortunate combination of some breeding adults lost, young inexperienced pairs and predation, has meant the number of breeding chicks and fledging pairs have been lower than hoped. We have also seen low productivity due to a cool spring when eggs are laid and needing to be kept warm and a very dry period, affecting access to their food supplies.

Choughs also known as ‘digger’ birds, use their long red bills to dig in the ground for invertebrates but would struggle in hard dry ground to do this. Their next source of food would be via the invertebrates found amongst cow pats which proves how important in these times of climate uncertainty, grazing cattle on the coastal fringes is vital for choughs.

Six pairs were successful and most nests have fledged now. 14 chicks in total is still a pretty amazing result, although everyone involved in supporting chough conservation in Cornwall is aware that the population is not at a sustainable level yet and there is work to do to keep them safe and secure.  We estimate that there are approximately 30 adult birds currently across Cornwall.

Volunteers from RSPB and National Trust have spent hundreds of hours protecting and monitoring nests, those lucky to see the young fledging have been rewarded by glimpses of parents feeding their chicks and first tentative flights.

This is a great time to see good numbers of choughs in the skies as the family groups are now flocking together and are venturing further as they explore the Cornish coast.

If you see any of Cornwall's choughs in the wild, please let us know via cornishchoughs@rspb.org.uk

Photo by Barry Batchelor courtesy of the National Trust.

Choughlets or choughlings?

Whichever you prefer, Kernow has some!

On Friday, Tony Cross paid his annual visit to say hello to the wild choughs of Cornwall and to find out what they have been up to.

Choughs lay between 3 - 5 eggs each year and the number can depend on age, experience, weather, disturbance or whether they can find enough food.  The number can sometimes be less than 3 if any of those factors are working against them.  They reach maturity at 3 years old but in Cornwall they start breeding at 2 years old.

All six nests were visited in one day and this is what happened in nest visit order:

Nest 1 - this pair have a bumper full clutch of 5 chicks.  This is the Lizard pair and their second year at breeding - last year they had 3.  They moved house in the spring (twice!) and the clever birds have set up their new home in a really good spot so hopefully they will have a successful fledging too.

Nest 2 - second year of breeding and only one chick in the nest.  They had three last year so we were expecting three plus due to maturity and experience.
choughletlingNest 3 - First year breeding attempt and they are both two years old.  They have picked a very good nest site. So good, Tony couldn't get to the nest in time so this could end up being a bit of a surprise for us come fledging time!
Nest 4 - This pair have had four chicks this year.  The past few years they have had a full clutch of five. Our oldest breeding pair of choughs in Cornwall and the oldest male in Cornwall at 11 years old.  This is their seventh/eighth year of breeding.

Nest 5 - This pair have had two chicks.  It is their third year of breeding and their third time of producing two chicks!

Nest 6 - a new pair who have produced one chick.  The male is an older bird who hasn't bred before but the female is only two.  This site is a busy site from visitors to the area and the pair struggled to get going.

That is it for another year.  Here is a picture of Tony doing his thing!
tony

Please note: These photographs are not to be re-produced, published or re-posted without permission of the photographer. Contact cornighchoughs@rspb.org.uk

Coastal Birds of Cornwall

Check out this fantastic picture of a chough and a kestrel taken recently in the far west of Kernow.  The photo was taken by James Sellen on his recently holiday to the area.

Photo by James Sellen