Chough report: February 2016

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By Liz Corry

The most significant event for Jersey’s free-living chough population this month has been the disappearance of Blue, the breeding female, who has not been seen since the end of the day on Sunday 31st January.

The only potential clue to her disappearance was on 2nd February when the group were observed actively following a peregrine back from Sorel Point to the grazed headland. When the group returned to the aviary for supplemental feed we placed the food dishes behind the aviary on the grazed land. This way the birds settle on the ground (providing there are no mountain bikers or walkers around) and we can get a clear close-up view of how everyone is.

Student, Nicola Cox, feeding the choughs away from the aviary using target training techniques. Photo by Liz Corry.

Student, Nicola Cox, feeding the choughs away from the aviary using target training techniques. Photo by Liz Corry.

As Green, partner to Blue, came into land it was clear he had a problem with his ‘landing gear’, his right leg was dangling out to the side. When he settled on the ground it was clear to see he was hobbling and reluctant to put any weight on the leg. He was feeding fine and did not seem too perturbed by it.

Green has gone through quite a few ordeals in his time living at Sorel including locking talons with a peregrine on his first ever flight away from the aviary in 2013. We monitored him closely for the next 24 hours, but he, the trooper that he is, recovered quickly and was using the leg again the next morning. Could Blue have fallen prey to a peregrine?

The weather had not been too kind, but not so severe that Blue or the rest of the group were in any danger. She was present at all the feeds before her disappearance and  roosting in the relative safety of the aviary.

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A fair amount of observations had to be carried out from the shelter of the keeper porch due to the constant rain. Photo by Liz Corry.

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Icho and the others frequently returned to the aviary looking half drowned. Photo by Liz Corry.

Whatever the reason, the fact is she has left the group, and life goes on for the rest. None more so than for Green who within the space of a week had re-paired. Black, a single female, wasted no time in making her presence known. Our first true confirmation of the pairing was on the 8th when he was observed passing food to her. This is a bonding exercise which proves to the female that he can provide for her if she decides to incubate eggs. Over the course of the month their bond has strengthened.

Green feeding BlackWhilst it is disheartening to lose a proven breeding female, the fact that Green has re-paired is encouraging. It is also good news for Black as she tried to nest last year and failed in finding a reliable male.

It all means that we head into the new breeding season with three strong pairings all with experience of nest-building at the very least.

Another interesting change which occurred when Blue left the group was with roost site preferences. Checks in the first half of the month showed that two choughs had decided to re-join Mauve and White in roosting at the quarry. Since last October Green, BlackBlue, Red and Dingle had roosted at the aviary with the juveniles instead of the quarry. Now it looks like Green and Black are once again roosting in the quarry. Could this be an indicator as to where they will nest this year?

February sunset roost checks at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

There was a slight chance that Red and Dingle were the two not roosting at the aviary.

Ever get that feeling you’re being watched? Photo by Liz Corry.

Our confirmation, however, that it was not them came on the evening of  6th February. The weather had been clear and calm so the choughs were active right up until the sunset at 17:30. The three pairs were missing from the group.

At 17:38 with light almost gone, two choughs shot back from the direction of the motocross track and went straight into the external roost box. It was Red and Dingle.

20160202_110704Having two less birds roost at the aviary will hopefully make the task of cleaning out the roost-boxes a little less depressing for the chough team.

As the winter weather eases off and day length increases we have seen a change in the choughs’ behaviour.

The group are spending a bit more time away from the grazed land and moving round to Sorel Point and the motocross area. As far as we know they have not been over to Crabbé at all this month and only occasionally venture over to Devil’s Hole.

Sorel rainbow by Nicola Cox

A welcome break from the rain. Photo by Nicola Cox.

P1660889The majority of the time we see just 2, 4 or 6 birds flying over to Sorel Point and Ronez Point which we assume are the pairs nest prospecting.

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Funding

We are very grateful to a private donor and neighbour of the choughs who generously gave a donation to help contribute to the cost of repairing the aviary roof. Durrell’s Maintenance Department will hopefully start work in March. I’m sure the choughs will be very thankful, even if it means they have to find an alternative watering hole.

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7 thoughts on “Chough report: February 2016

  1. Sad to know that you lost Blue Liz. But at least the choughs are heading into the new breeding season and you have three strong pairings all with experience of nest-building etc.

    Good luck with this fantastic work.

  2. Shame about Blue. Good to know the others are doing well though. Thanks again for another informative update Liz.

  3. The website makes very interesting viewing particularly updating the progress of the coughs. Many thanks, Johnj

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