The choughs greeted the keeper closer than ever! It’s quite clear at this time of year that the choughs recognise the keepers. They spot you on the walk up the coastal path towards the aviary, circling and vocalising loudly, following you along the foot path before finding a place to land. As you can see, the closest and safest spot was the entrance gate to the National Trust’s land. The choughs wing-begged and shouted, they really do know how to welcome their food providers!
Now is an even more important time than ever to be keeping up to date on our aviary maintenance. At this time of year, we are eagerly anticipating the arrival of ‘choughlets’ (chough fledglings) at the aviary. About four weeks after fledging, the chicks’ parents will stop feeding them so it’s essential for the chicks to watch their parents and learn how to forage for themselves. Choughs forage over coastal grasslands; they are often spotted in shorter grass fields, and this is because the insect abundance is generally higher where grass is short. Therefore, mowing the grass, strimming the hedgerows and neatening edges within and outside the aviary is important as it acts as a natural food source for the choughs and chicks that come to the aviary. Along with keeping the grass length short, we also provide ‘enrichment squares’; this is an added foraging obstacle which includes pinecones, slates and branches. These squares engage the choughs to lift and move objects to find the scattered insects – enabling them to work for their ‘free food’.
Is that a ‘choughlet’ I can see?!
Exciting news! We had our first ‘choughlet’ appearance at the Sorel aviary on 10th June! But there wasn’t just one chick, there were three! Our first sighting of the fledglings was in a field opposite the aviary – they were causing quite a stir in the flock. It wasn’t long until they flew in and landed on the aviary roof with Kevin & Wally. We assumed that these three must be theirs as they arrived together, and we had predicted this pair’s fledging dates back in May when we visited their nests to ring and age them! While monitoring the choughs at the aviary, it became clear that these three chicks were definitely from Kevin & Wally’s nest as we’ve witnessed many parent to chick feedings on top of the aviary. It wasn’t long, however, that more fledglings started arriving at the aviary. The next breeding pair’s chicks to arrive at the aviary belonged to Dusty & Chickay – four chicks on the 13th! Dusty & Chickay have always been pretty consistent with four chicks in the past; but it’s exciting to see the chicks that we saw in the nest arrive at the aviary happy and healthy!
Since those first arrivals, we’ve had Trevor & Noirmont’s chick, Manitou arrive at the aviary being very vocal, much like the majority of the chicks. It’s good to see the one chick we managed to ring at the nest arrive safely. By mid-month we started to see other breeding pairs bringing their chicks too, including Green & Pyrrho and Percy & Icho with their two chicks and Lee & Cauvette seen with one chick so far. It’s safe to say that the supplementary feeds at the aviary have been very loud and eventful this month! We may not have seen all of the chicks that were viewed at the quarry nests yet; we are still hopeful for more arrivals!
The past few weeks have been pretty hectic, but our former colleague Paul has been very useful in helping us monitor our chough activity in Ronez Quarry. We had our estimated fledging dates but hadn’t seen all chicks arrive at the aviary. But sure, enough there were plenty of chicks flying around the Sorel Lighthouse and quarry as acknowledged by Paul. The chicks will practice their flying before they are strong enough and brave enough to join their parents at the aviary for the supplementary feeds. We greatly appreciate the many chough enthusiasts that help us with our chough project; but don’t forget that anyone can help.
Follow this link and you can do your bit by sending in public sightings of any choughs you see around Jersey Island!
Catch up time!
As the chough chicks keep arriving; it was time to take action and loosen up the hatch wires for the first chick ‘catch ups’ at the aviary. Why are we catching them up you ask? It’s to be able to identify each individual for monitoring with the use of colour-rings (which in turn allows us to know which breeding pair the chick belongs to through observations – see below), to indicate that they are owned and thrive in Jersey, to measure their bills, tarsus and weight. This is essential information we collect and keep records of for all the individuals in the wild free-flying flock. We haven’t needed to ‘catch up’ any choughs in quite some time so it took a few tries to loosen the hatch wires! But between the team, we’ve currently caught eight of the current fifteen chicks floating around with their parents.
Not something we want to see
One of Kevin & Wally’s fledglings had been limping since the first time it was seen arriving at the aviary. It was clear it had quite a large laceration to its left tarsus; but to be able to examine it properly we had to wait until the fledglings were more confident in going in and out of the aviary to carry out a ‘catch up’. We closely monitored the chick until we could catch it up within the aviary. On close examination it was clear how large the injury was but thankfully it had already scabbed over nicely and had no sign of infection, therefore, no additional action was needed. Fledglings are not always the most agile in flight and/or landing at first, something that is learnt over time. One can only assume that it crash-landed somewhere causing itself an injury. But one thing is for sure, it’s now a much better flier!
During these catch-ups we also quickly put the temporary, coloured plastic, rings on the chicks. We only have a short window of opportunity to see exactly which chick belongs to which pair of adults. After only a fairly short time, the chicks start to feed themselves, beg from their parents less and join groups of other juveniles. Groups who take great delight in begging from any passing adults (adults who aren’t fooled) and confusing the patient observer. As opportunities to catch newly arriving chicks inside the aviary are hard to predict, we do these catch-ups fairly randomly – often with long frustrating periods of watching a chick stare imploringly at their parents through the netting, through an open hatch, field etc and our sitting in the bracken or lying in a spot on a field that the sheep have only recently vacated. With everyone identified and, in a few weeks’ time, more likely to go into the aviary when we want them to, we will ask the licenced ringers from the Channel Islands Ringing Scheme to put permanent, numbered metal rings on.
Hottest day on record since 1894!
Between our catch ups, on Friday 17th June 2022, we had the highest June temperature in Jersey since records began in 1894. The temperatures hit a scorching 33.1 degrees Celsius. It’s not surprising that on this day most of the choughs were seen with their beaks wide open. This is because unlike most mammals; birds lack sweat glands and, therefore, they cool themselves down by keeping their beaks open. This is called ‘gular fluttering’ it is the avian equivalent of panting. Gular fluttering is just one of the few behaviours bird species express to stay cool in those hot weather days. Birds also submerge themselves in water either to swim and/or bathe. Sometimes you’ll catch a chough all wet and puffed up sitting on top of the aviary; this is their way of letting the breeze through their wet feathers to help them stay cool. As much as the choughs distinct jet-black plumage and striking red beak are beautiful; I do not envy them their plumage in that heat!