44 million birds lost in the UK since 1966

including an average of 50 house sparrows every hour…

Report from British Birds

Since 1966, the UK has lost breeding birds from the countryside at an average rate of a nesting pair every minute, say conservationists in The State of the UK’s Birds 2012, published on Monday 19th November.

House sparrow. Photo by Mick DrydenThe report estimates that there are 166 million nesting birds in the UK, compared with 210 million nesting birds in 1966. The house sparrow has seen one of the greatest losses of any bird in the UK. Although since 2000 house sparrow numbers have started to increase, the UK still has 20 million fewer sparrows than it did in 1966. The current population is estimated at around 10 million.

One of the report’s authors, Dr Mark Eaton of the RSPB said: “It is shocking to think that we’ve lost one in five of the individual birds that we had in the 1960s, especially when you think that the 44 million birds we have lost since 1966 is equivalent to the current adult human population of England and Wales.”

There have been many changes in the UK which have affected birds, most notably changes in the land use and the management of the countryside and seas – these can change the amount or quality of key resources needed by birds, such as suitable places to nest or a shortage of food in summer or winter. However, for some species, including the house sparrow, the precise reasons behind these declines aren’t fully understood.

Turtle dove in St Ouen's Bay. Photo by Miranda CollettThe changing fortunes of two, related species further highlight the changes to the UK’s birds: the turtle dove and the collared dove. In 1966, the turtle dove was still a widespread bird with about 140,000 breeding pairs, whilst numbers of the collared dove were very low, as the species only began nesting in the UK in 1955. Today there are only thought be around 14,000 pairs of turtle dove nesting in the UK, whereas the collared dove had exploded to around one million pairs.

Collared dove. Photo by Mick DrydenCold weather is thought to have had a startling effect on bird numbers too. The wren, for example – still the UK’s most numerous bird – has lost an average of 835 individuals a day since 2000. But another garden bird, the chaffinch, has increased at a rate of 150 individuals per day.

Dr Andy Musgrove of the BTO, who worked on compiling these figures, said “We have learnt a great deal about bird numbers in the UK and, particularly, how they have changed through time. Amongst individual species, whilst there have been some winners, the number of losers is greater and the long-term picture is sobering. There is still more to learn though, and we need the continuing support of ever greater numbers of volunteer birdwatchers, on whose efforts all of these numbers are based”.

The State of the UK’s Birds report is a great example of ‘citizen science’ in action. Most of the information upon which the report is based is derived from the efforts of a network of skilled, volunteer ornithologists who contribute to national monitoring schemes like the UK’s Breeding Bird Survey and Wetland Bird Survey. Such schemes provide a high quality evidence base underpinning the work of government, conservation organisations and land managers in their joint efforts to conserve the natural environment and its wildlife. Here in Jersey we too rely on volunteer observers sending in their sightings to the Bird Recorder at the Société Jersiaise Ornithology Section. We in turn compile an annual Bird Report each year (copies are available from The Museum in St Helier and from the Durrell Visitor Centre). The Ornithology Section also takes part in most of the UK’s bird monitoring schemes such as the Breeding Bird Survey and BIRDS ON THE EDGE includes a bird monitoring project. Channel Islands bird numbers are not included in The State of the UK’s Birds 2012 but the current status of Jersey’s bird populations can be seen in our own report Conservation Status of Jersey’s Birds: Jersey’s bird populations in the 21st Century.

The State of the UK’s Birds 2012 is produced by RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust – and the UK Government’s statutory nature conservation. The report also includes the latest information on the number of ducks, geese, swans and wading birds spending the winter in the UK and an update on the internationally-important birds, including albatrosses and penguins, on the UK’s overseas territories.

The State of the UK’s Birds 2012 can be downloaded from the British Trust for Ornithology.

Chough report: October 2012

Report from Liz Corry

Captive choughs at Durrell

The two breeding pairs now in the display aviary appear to have settled in well. Arthur and Gwinny still come down for insects before the other two birds when keepers are present, but Tristan and Issy are by no means going without. There are four food bowls distributed around the aviary so everyone gets a chance to eat and enrichment food is also spread out.

During the heavy rains at the start of the month it was noted that Arthur and Gwinny were roosting out in the open. There is a large area of shelter at the back of the aviary, but the concern was that Tristan and Issy might have been defending the entire shelter. With that in mind keepers built two small shelters that were positioned either side at the front of the aviary. Food bowls were placed inside to encourage the birds to use the new areas. Occasionally keepers observe chasing between the pairs but this is to be expected.

Benvenuto Gianna

Gianna in quarantine. Photo by Liz CorryThe start of the month was an exciting time for Durrell staff as a new addition to the chough cohort arrived all the way from Italy. Staff at the University of Turin’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine contacted Durrell during the summer regarding a juvenile chough they had hospitalised and wanted to re-home. They believed, through her very tame nature, that she had been taken from the wild as a young chick and kept in captivity and for this reason they could not release her back into the wild. They had, however, heard about Durrell’s captive breeding programme for choughs and wondered if she could be of use to the re-introduction project whilst also gaining a better quality of life.

Gianna, named by the staff in Turin, arrived on the 1st of October and stayed in the Les Noyers quarantine facilities until she had cleared her quarantine period. She weighed 260g upon arrival, slightly low for a female but expected after an overnight journey all the way from Italy. She was eating and drinking immediately and showed no signs of stress.

The Durrell Veterinary Department took blood samples and conducted a general health check during the first week in quarantine followed by weekly faecal screening. Once Gianna has cleared quarantine she will be moved to the display aviary to join the other choughs

NOTE it is presumed that Gianna is a different subspecies (P. p. erythrorhamphus) to the other birds (P. p. pyrrhocorax) and will not be allowed to breed with them. She will, however, be an invaluable asset to the flock.

Radio-transmitter trials

Attaching dummy radio tag. Photo by Harriet WhitfordAll of the choughs being released on the north coast this year will have radio-transmitters attached so their movements can be closely monitored. Standard tail-mounted tags supplied by Biotrack will be fitted to each bird once they move up to the release aviary. Tail feather attachment means that the tags will fall off naturally when the birds moult, thus reducing stress. In order to assess if the tags have any impact on the birds’ health and/or Attaching dummy radio tag. Photo by Harriet Whitfordbehaviour once attached we are trialling dummy tags on two choughs in the Wildlife Park. This trial also allows us to test the durability of the tags, especially important considering the inquisitive nature of the choughs!

B6975 (♀) and B6976 (♂) were taken to the vets to have the tags attached and then released straight back into their aviary. Upon release, B6975 was observed preening and Attaching dummy radio tag. Photo by Harriet Whitfordtaking an interest in the antennae of the tag, but soon lost interest. She was caught up four days later to check her health and the condition of the tag. The tag was still intact although there had been extensive pecking at the glue used to attach the tag to the feathers. Her health and that of the other bird seem at present to be unaffected by the tag.

 

 

Bad weather for migrating birds

Redwing. Photo by Mick DrydenAn appalling combination of fog and winds around UK and Channel coasts this last week have created terrible conditions for migrating birds. An RSPB news report details how some fishermen have seen exhausted and disorientated ‘garden’ birds plunging into the sea around their vessels.

We have seen the arrival in the region of many birds, including redwings, fieldfares, bramblings and blackbirds, perhaps numbering in their millions this week. The RSPB believes these birds may be the lucky survivors which have managed to cross the North Sea, but the Society concedes that many others may have perished before making landfall.

One such site to experience a ‘fall’ of stranded migrant birds was the RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs reserve in North Yorkshire. Ian Kendall, the reserves manager commented  that: “there are birds in their thousands, on the cliffs, in the surrounding fields, hedgerows and along the length of the Yorkshire Coast. The birds left Scandinavia in glorious sunshine but as they crossed the North Sea, they flew into fog and rain, so they stopped off at the first bit of land they have come across. The place has been dripping with birds.”

Male blackbird. Photo by Mick DrydenAlong England’s south coast, the RSPB also received several reports of thousands of disorientated and exhausted birds drowning in the sea. One respondent, a professional boat skipper, said: “While fishing about 10 miles south of Portsmouth, we witnessed thousands of garden birds disorientated, land on the sea and most drowning.  Species included goldcrests, robins, thrushes and blackbirds. The sky was thick with garden birds. I estimate I saw 500 birds die and that was just in our 300-yard sphere. On the way home we just saw dead songbirds in the water: it was a harrowing sight.”

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director said: “The scale of these reports is truly shocking, and it has the potential to adversely affect the status of species which may be declining for other reasons.”

Those exhausted birds which have made it to the UK, the Channel Islands and the French coast will be looking for food and may be visiting gardens, especially as the weather is expected to turn with the area forecast to receive the first icy blasts of winter. Now is the time to start topping up bird tables and feeders. These birds need all the help they can get, so gardeners and farmers can also help birds by not cutting hedgerows laden with much-needed berries.

There are no dramatic reports of dying birds in the Channel Islands this week but St Anne, Alderney, awoke to streets full of blackbirds last week. Keep checking the Jersey and Guernsey bird updates to see what is arriving or passing through.

Chough in the Isles of Scilly

Scilly chough 31 Oct 2012. Photo by Martin Goodey www.mpgoodeyphotography.comA chough on St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly yesterday (30th October) was only the third seen in the islands since 1950. The arrival was quickly reported by Rare Bird Alert and it’s movements can be followed here and on the website of The Isles of Scilly Bird Group. St Martin’s is the northernmost of the larger Scilly Isles and approximately 45km south of Cornwall. Not ringed, this chough is unlikely to have come from the Cornwall population and the strong north-westerly winds on Tuesday may suggest an Irish origin.

The chough was seen again later on Tuesday at Peninnis Head on St Mary’s where it has been feeding in the fields. The visitor seemed more settled today despite the attentions of the local carrion crows and a threatening peregrine. Interestingly, Cornish Choughs report several other exciting sightings this week including birds at Porth Island, Newquay, over the weekend and on Lundy Island yesterday. Both Cornwall and Jersey are hoping the Scilly bird will make a move to our respective areas!

Meeting to discuss the future for the cirl bunting in Jersey

Report by Marc Woodhall and Glyn Young

Cirl bunting. Photo by Mick DrydenOn 11th October all parties involved in trying to help secure the cirl bunting’s tenuous grip in Jersey and encourage it to spread met at Howard Davis Farm to discuss a strategy for the coming winter and next breeding season. Representatives of the Société Jersiaise Ornithology Section, National Trust for Jersey, Durrell, Grouville Tenants, Royal Jersey Golf Club in Grouville and Department of the Environment were present. Cirl bunting expert, Cath Jeffs from the RSPB, supplied advice via e-mail in advance of the meeting.

Summary of issues discussed

A brief summary of the history of the cirl bunting in Jersey was given including surveys from as far back as 1992 undertaken by the RSPB and Mick Dryden on behalf of the Société Jersiaise. In 1992, 21 singing males had been recorded primarily in three areas: Grouville Golf Course (GGC); La Moye Golf Course; St Brelade area (including St Brelade Bay and Pont Marquet). A steady decline continued from the 1992 survey until 2000 when no birds were seen. There were occasional sightings and reports until 2011 when cirl buntings were found on GGC on the bird monitoring transect that runs across it. Speculation as to why there has been a reduction in cirl bunting numbers has focussed on a combination of factors: they have never exhibited a strong breeding success in Jersey; there have been continued changes in agricultural practices resulting in a loss of winter habitat and feed availability; predation from sparrowhawks, cats and rats.

Discussions at the meeting were essentially focussed on four main areas:

  1. The existing breeding habitat of the cirl buntings on GGC;
  2. The monitoring and supplementary feeding of the birds on the GGC;
  3. The winter feeding habitat of the birds;
  4. The possibilities for cirl bunting conservation across other localities in Jersey.

1.   The existing breeding habitat of the cirl buntings on GGC

Cirl bunting. Photo by Mick DrydenCurrent and proposed management of the non playing areas at GGC was outlined including the holm oak removal and gorse coppicing regime. Currently the Royal Jersey are working to a six year rotational plan to cover the whole course and are employing a combination of cutting smaller pockets and larger areas as well as replanting gorse where appropriate. There has also been a general reduction in the cutting regime of the rough across the course which was even more strictly applied around the current bird feeder sites. Grassland management regimes that are in place are designed to reduce the nitrogen load and promote finer fescue grasses. A consequence, however, of not managing the rough as intensively and also the rotational gorse coppicing and holm oak clearance has been an increase in the bracken stand which needs to be addressed.

In discussing the management currently being undertaken a number of initiatives being implemented to further enhance the marginal areas of the course and, hopefully, opportunities for cirl bunting and other birds were outlined. These ranged from keeping golf buggies out of the rough across the course and managing access for public and dog walkers in areas. It was also decided to relocate one of the existing bird feeders and to install a number of additional feeders in an area where forthcoming habitat management work is programmed.

2.   The monitoring and supplementary feeding of the birds on the GGC

The discussion about existing feeders focused on:

  • Whether supplementary feeding should continue;
  • Should there be a change in feed according to season, breeding and conditions;
  • Should existing feeders be retained in place or moved.

Cirl bunting. Photo by Mick DrydenSignificant thanks were extended to Richard Perchard who has been monitoring the use of feeding stations, sterilising trays and topping up the food through 2011-2012. Birds have been fed the same seed mix throughout. The poor early season (in 2012) weather conditions meant that there was limited availability of grasshoppers (particularly) and there was discussion over the use of mealworms. It was decided that mealworms would be used at the start of the next (2013) breeding season if weather conditions were poor. It was further noted that the availability of grasshoppers would play an important role in the success of rearing young and it may be more beneficial not to leave grass uncut throughout the whole growing season as grasshoppers tended to become less abundant as vegetation became too long or rough. It was decided that supplementary feeding would continue year round for the time being and also to include a couple of extra feeders to be put out on the course.

Discussion about changing the location of feeding stations was prompted by the current use patterns, the threat posed by disturbance and the possibility of predation of the birds. The risk from predation is ever present and sparrowhawks undoubtedly pose a threat and feeders may need to be placed in suitably protective habitat like hedgerows to provide maximum cover when the birds are at their most vulnerable. Cats are also present at the GGC site and may be a serious threat as they undoubtedly are to green lizards and slow worms at the site. Rats and their control were also discussed.

3.   The over wintering feeding habitat of the birds

The discussion at the meeting echoed the comments by Cath Jeffs on the importance in providing suitable winter feeding habitat if the programme to increase cirl bunting numbers was to be successful (there would obviously be additional benefit for other farmland bird species). Evidence suggests that cirl buntings favour good hedgerow habitat and associated stubble fields resulting particularly from growing cereals. Suggestions for increasing opportunities of this kind of habitat included looking at Grouville Marsh and surrounding land as well as a more in-depth study to identify marginal / low intensity arable farmland within a 2km radius of the cirl bunting nesting site (2km thought to be the average foraging extent for cirl buntings).

It was confirmed that the golf course cirls cross the road to the hay meadow and beyond on Grouville Marsh. This meadow is cut annually Oct/Nov and that this will remain the case thus providing an undoubted seed source. There is also an amount of spring barley currently down in arable land (subsequently used for potatoes) within 2km of the GGC and it will be useful to identify these landowners/tenant farmers to understand their rotational plan and how it could be of benefit as potential food sources for farmland birds.

It may be possible for these landowners/tenants to receive financial support, in the form of grant aid through the Countryside Enhancement Scheme (CES), to cultivate cereal crops and provide overwintering feed sources. In addition the targeted improvement of hedgerows could also be supported through financial support from the CES.

4.  The possibilities for cirl bunting conservation across other localities in Jersey.

The historic locations of cirl bunting sightings suggest that a more targeted assessment for creating potential winter habitat, that includes feed availability, is undoubtedly worthwhile. At the very least it will provide benefit to a number of farmland birds and raise the profile of this area of conservation.

This could include influencing management at Pont Marquet, continuing ongoing discussions with La Moye Golf Course and identifying opportunities on land owned by the States of Jersey.

Inter-Islands Environmental Meeting 2012 Alderney

Fort Clonque, Alderney. Photo by Alderney Wildlife TrustThis year’s annual inter-islands environmental meeting will be held in Alderney at Island Hall (Anne French Room) in St. Anne on 25th and 26th October. Hosted by the Alderney Wildlife Trust, this year’s meeting is supported by States of Alderney and the Alderney Commission for Renewable Energy (ACRE). Please e-mail Frankie Yates, Assistant Ecologist, Alderney Wildlife Trust for more information assistantecologist@alderneywildlife.org.

The provisional agenda shows how wide-ranging this year’s meeting will be:

Day 1
Session 1
0945 In Memory  – Charles David and Margaret Long will be remembered
1000
Conservation Grazing (Julia Henney)
• The use of pigs in bracken clearance (Sarah Lewington)
• Alderney Conservation Grazing Project Update
• Invertebrates in Conservation Planning
1020
Developments on the state of Jersey’s butterflies’ 2013-14; a project focused
on using butterflies as environmental indicators, including looking for changes
in land management regimes especially countryside stewardship (Nina Cornish)
• Land Management for Insects in the Channel Islands (David Wedd)

Session 2
1130
• Convention on Biodiversity – a Workshop for Small Territories held in Guernsey
Oct 2012 (Andrew McCutcheon)
1255
• BIRDS ON THE EDGE: an update on the launch of the project to restore
Jersey’s coastlands and return the red-billed chough to the Channel Islands (Glyn Young and Liz Corry)
• Plémont Update – major land acquisition in the Channel Islands (Jon Horn)
• Seabird Season 2012 update (Paul Veron) 

Gannets at Ortac, Alderney. Photo by Alderney Wildlife TrustSession 3 Marine surveys, the standardisation of data handling and sharing of resources between the islands
1400
Update on marine monitoring – the need for standardization of marine survey
methodology, data effort and shared resourcing within the islands (Greg Morel)
• UK Marine Monitoring Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS) – an update from the JNCC (joint cetacean protocol – marine renewable industry – data use guide)
• The Channel Marine Bird Observatory – developments following the
conclusions of the meeting held in Caen on 7/9/12. (What are the shared
species of interest between CI and France? What are the protocols for
consideration, the sites of concern, how do we share data, and who does
what?) (Karine Dedieu)

Session 4
1545 • Marine Strategic Planning; developing Ramsar Strategy to serve a purpose
(Alderney Wildlife Trust)
• Progress with Marine Protected Areas and Marine Habitat Mapping in the Isle of
Man (Fiona Gell)
• Overview of cetacean, seal & basking shark monitoring for the Isle of Man (Eleanor Stone)
• “FAME” (Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment) – a review to date (Helen
Booker)
1700 End of day wind up discussion

Day 2

0700-0830 Morning bird-walk

All day: Workshops
• Conservation Management in practice
• Invertebrates and invasives in conservation management (includes site visit)
• Marine Monitoring techniques
• Environmental Impact Assessment practices

 

Global loss of bird species and subspecies speeds up

From Surfbirds

A new paper published this week reports that the rate of bird extinctions is accelerating at an alarming rate. Global patterns and drivers of avian extinctions at the species and subspecies level, published in PLoS One is free to download and reveals that 279 bird species and subspecies from across the globe have become extinct in the last 500 years. The study shows that species extinctions peaked in the early 20th century, then fell until the mid-20th century, and have subsequently accelerated.

“Until this study it had been hoped the rate of extinction was slowing”, said lead author Dr Judit Szabo. “Historically most extinctions have occurred on islands, particularly those in the Pacific, but most of the really susceptible species are long gone.”

The study shows that the destruction of native habitat for agriculture is currently the main cause of extinctions. Unsustainable hunting and the introduction of alien species, such as cats and rats, have been the main causes of extinctions in the past.

“Humans are directly or indirectly responsible for this loss”, Dr Szabo said.

The world’s nations had agreed through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to slow biodiversity loss by 2010, and having failed to reach this goal, the target has now been adjusted to 2020.

Report co-author Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International’s Global Research Coordinator, said many species survive only because of conservation interventions. “This list would have been much longer were it not for the work being done around the world to stop extinctions. But we need to scale up our efforts substantially to avoid further human-induced extinctions”, said Dr Butchart. “Our analysis provides the most detailed picture to date of recent extinctions and will help us identify strategies to tackle the loss of biodiversity and halt future human-induced extinctions. The Conference of the Parties of the CBD in Hyderabad, India will need some firm action to achieve its target of achieving this by 2020.”

In Jersey we have seen the loss from our island of several bird species over the last 20-30 years. While none of these birds are in imminent threat of global extinction, each loss represents the slow but steady crumbling away of their ranges and populations. BIRDS ON THE EDGE hopes to help prevent the disappearance of further birds and return some to our Island.

Choughs at Sept Iles, Brittany

Red-billed chough at Ile Grande, August 2012. Photo by Armel DeniauUpdate by Régis Perdriat of the LPO Station at l’Île Grande

Regis reports that in August and September this year there have been 2-3 red-billed choughs visiting the vicinity of the Station and Brittany’s Sept Îles Reserve. With 50+ pairs of choughs breeding in Brittany, the species’ nearest stronghold is Ile Ouessant (Ushant), the island at the western end of the Brest Peninsula.  Brittany. Map by Tim Wright

These sightings are not the first as in recent years there have been several choughs recorded in the reserve and in the vicinity of the Île Grande station:

• 1-2 birds were seen at the LPO Station between 18th October and 6th December 1987;
• 1 bird seen at the LPO Station 31st October and 2nd November 1994;Rouzic island - 7 îles archipelago. Photo by Régis Perdriat
• 1 bird seen in August 1997 on Île Rouzic (the island of the Sept Îles with the gannet colony);
• 3 birds seen between the 8th and 20th August 2005 (one bird had been ringed on Ouessant in May of the same year and was back on Ouessant two months later);
• 7 birds were seen at the LPO Station on 3rd October 2007 and 2 on the 17th October;
Red-billed chough at Ile Grande, August 2012. Photo by Armel Deniau• 2-3 birds seen regularly between the 20th August and the 17th of September 2012.

Interestingly there have been sightings of choughs even further north including birds at Cap Fréhel, Calais and even a juvenile at the Antifer nature reserve (Seine Maritime).

These records from l’Île Grande and the Sept Îles Reserve Red-billed chough at Ile Grande, August 2012. Photo by Armel Deniauon Bittany’s north coast well show how much these birds may roam along the coast to the south of Jersey.

 

Chough report: September 2012

Report from Liz Corry

Captive choughs at Durrell

The chough-fle shuffle begins. Photo by Liz CorryIn the wild at this time of the year breeding pairs, juveniles, and non-breeding adults are coming together to form their winter flocking groups. In captivity this is replicated by moving all the birds into our large display aviary. However, due to the imminent re-introduction plans we are keeping the potential release candidates separate from the other choughs. So Operation chough-fle shuffle was put into place by the keepers this month.

Red-billed chough in the hand. Photo by Liz CorryThe shuffle began with the breeding pairs being moved out from their aviaries to off-show holding facilities (LNQ). The non-breeding birds (release candidates) in the display aviary were moved down to the breeding aviaries. Then, finally, the breeding pairs could be moved into the display aviary.

To avoid any negative associations with their keepers the non-breeding birds were netted by non-uniformed staff and handled by different species’ keepers. Once in the hand all birds were weighed, had a general health check, Arthur returns to the display aviary. Photo by Liz Corryand had blood samples taken by the vet for disease screening. A group faecal sample was taken prior to the catch-up for disease screening, which was also submitted as part of Durrell’s bi-annual screening process.  It took two days to catch up all six birds because they first needed to be lured into the shut-off cage before netting. After the first two birds were trapped the others became understandably wary of going in the shut-off, hence the two days.

Red-billed choughs in Durrell display aviary. Photo by Liz CorryWith the display aviary empty and cleaned both breeding pairs were caught up once again and moved down into the display aviary. They were released at the same time to avoid one pair establishing a territory before the other. Observations were made by keepers for the first two hours after mixing and continued intermittently over the next few days to make sure everyone was harmonious.

As expected, last year’s dominant pair, Tristan and Issy, made their presence known and repeatedly flew around the aviary vocalising. This was matched by Arthur and Gwinny although they preferred to stay perched high. There were a couple of mid-air scuffles in which Tristan brought one of the other birds to the ground but these only lasted a few seconds. The birds are more confident in the aviary than they were last year and are more tolerant of the keepers being in the aviary. Arthur and Gwinny are always first down for insects: this could be seen as a positive thing if the birds are more confident. However, it might be that the other pair is stopping them from getting to the main food dishes when the keepers are not there. This behaviour is being closely monitored by the keepers.

 

 

 

 

The fall and rise of the chough in Cornwall

Cornish chough. Photo by Bob Sharples www.bobsharplesphotography.co.ukAs 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 www.bobsharplesphotography.co.ukHas 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