by Liz Corry
The first release of this year’s captive bred choughs got underway on the 21st July. Six two-month old chicks from Durrell Wildlife Park were released from their aviary at Sorel to join the current flock of twenty four free-living choughs.
With more birds outside the aviary than inside, including four very loud wild chicks, the release cohort had more of a ‘hard’ release than the gradual introductions of 2014. The hatches were opened in the late afternoon much to the bemusement of the inhabitants. Once all thirty had mixed and mingled they were called down for food at the aviary, and then left to get on with it under the ever watchful supervision of the field staff.
The release cohort is a mix of parent-reared and foster-reared birds which meant they had two different approaches to the ‘outside’ world. The parent-reared chicks had a tendency to follow the adults which meant they quickly learnt where the best foraging sites are, where to shelter from the rain, and how to react to potential threats most notably the peregrines. The foster four were not quite as willing or confident and tended to look to their foster parents for support.
After the first evening flying at liberty around Sorel the six chicks returned to the aviary along with a few older birds and went to roost. The excitement of it all must have taken it out of them as the birds went in almost two hours before sunset and didn’t leave again until the morning.
Staff returned at sunrise to find one group of choughs breakfasting over on the other side of Mourier Valley. The begging calls of the wild chicks carried over the valley giving away their location.
Whilst another group were by the cliff path at Sorel. The foster chicks were at the aviary. On seeing their ‘parent’ (i.e. me) arrive over the brow of the hill the flew out to warmly greet and/or demand breakfast off her. This also involved landing on said parent’s head and backpack. At first this behaviour was very concerning. Would they behave like this around other people? Are they going to be naive when faced with potential threats?
Over the next few days the chicks were put to the test by undercover bird keepers and unsuspecting public. They even had a few peregrine encounters. They passed every test and demonstrated how intelligent corvids really are. The foster four can identify their ‘parents’ from fifty metres away and will fly straight over to greet them. Or to be more exact if they think they can get an easy meal out of us. However, if we are with other people they won’t come near. As they grow in age and confidence and begin to find enough food to support themselves they should start to depend less on their foster parents.
Their young age is apparent not just by their behaviour, but by their physical appearance. The youngest chicks have a grey-yellow bill. Those a few weeks older have an orange colouration which should develop into the trademark red bill in another month.
There are now thirty choughs flying free on the north coast of Jersey. It won’t be long before they start exploring and making appearances in other parts of the island.