Drama among Cornwall’s wild choughs

From Claire Mucklow, RSPB’s Cornwall Projects Manager

Cornish chough. Photo by Bob Sharples www.bobsharplesphotography.co.ukThe last week has been one of both tremendous highs and lows for the chough team in Cornwall. They were very sad to have to report the loss of the 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 the new younger bird has ousted and possibly killed the older male. He may not be dead but he has certainly been usurped. Claire says “I always joke ‘they will live forever’ when people ask me 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, and unexpected, twist to this tale. The new male, a bird often seen in the company of the Lizard pair, has adopted the old male’s new 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.

There is further news of chicks in Cornwall where there are already chough fledglings this season; five more youngsters took to the skies last week in Penwith. The crazy weather has really affected this year’s breeding season and, 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 so far 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.

Follow news of Cornwall’s choughs on the project website here and on Twitter at @cornishchoughs. Find where to watch wild Cornish choughs here

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