The fall and rise of the chough in Cornwall

Cornish chough. Photo by Bob Sharples we prepare to return the red-billed chough to Jersey this recent summary of the bird’s disappearance from Cornwall and its successful return is very timely. See Cornish Choughs for the whole story.

Key dates

1800s: A marked decline in numbers of choughs in Cornwall due to persecution and habitat decline
1930s: Probably only half a dozen breeding pairs remain in Cornwall
1947: Last successful breeding recorded in Cornwall
1967: One of the last pair found dead
1973: Last chough in Cornwall seen in February 1973

1973-2000: A handful of records of choughs passing through, two birds arrived at Rame Head in 1996 and stayed for 6 months
2001: Choughs return naturally to Cornwall – a small influx of birds recorded and three birds settle at the tip of the Lizard peninsula
2002: Choughs successfully breed in Cornwall again
2006: Two pairs of choughs raise young in Cornwall. Also first documented record of colour-ringed Welsh choughs in England (seen in Somerset and north Devon)
2008: First chough chicks born in West Penwith, Cornwall, for 150 years
2011: Six pairs nest in Cornwall
2012: Seven pairs nest in Cornwall.

Cornish chough. Photo by Bob Sharples that natural recolonisation been successful?  These figures show the slow but steady increase in the number of breeding pairs and youngsters fledged from Cornish nests. Not all young choughs are expected to survive, these are long-lived birds with a high mortality rate, especially in their first year, but the survival rates of Cornish birds are very good compared to other UK populations.

Year    Pairs     Young fledged
2002   1            3
2003   1            3
2004   1            4
2005   1            5
2006   2            8
2007   2            9
2008   2            6
2009   5            8     Two pairs successful, two young pairs attempt to breed
2010   6            9     Three pairs successful, two attempt and one male pair
2011   6            15   Four pairs successful, one pair’s eggs predated, plus one male pair
2012   7            18   Five pairs productive, plus one young pair and one male pair