Chough report – August 2022

By Charlotte Dean

Heatwaves and water supplies

This summer is proving to be a particularly hot one; one which we probably shouldn’t complain about! With rising temperatures and further limited rainfall though, the struggle for water supplies up at the Sorel aviary are beginning to show. At Sorel, it is clear how little rain we’ve received over the past month or so as the water butt, which is usually filled by Jersey’s plentiful rainwater, has been getting topped up by keepers. It may be physically challenging lugging water containers to the aviary in the recent heat but at least the choughs have clean water, and the keepers are becoming that little bit fitter! But, with rainwater being in short supply, lack of water wasn’t the only worry as the ground became hard and compact, potentially making foraging spots for choughs a little sparse; not an ideal start for the choughlets. Our Plémont pair Minty & Rey are normally rarely seen at the aviary but have been very frequent as of late; making us worry more about the state of foraging across the Island.        

Bird flu, captive and wild bird devastation

The other worry on the Island is bird flu. So, what is bird flu? Bird flu is a type of influenza virus which is mainly spread amongst birds. The virus itself can be spread in two ways; directly (through contact) or indirectly (through faecal matter). It can affect mammals, but the risk is very low compared to the transmission between bird species. Bird flu was found on the Island in February this year and has caused quite a stir. This month, the number of cases seen across the Island has increased and the coasts are becoming scattered with many suspected avian flu fatalities, mostly seabirds. It is very important for us to state that the public must help prevent further spread by following the Government of Jersey Natural Environment guidelines and not picking up, touching or going near wild sick or dead birds. However, it is useful for the public to notify Natural Environment about any dead birds; especially if several dead birds are found in close proximity of each other. The most susceptible wild birds seem to be birds of prey, owls, wildfowl and seabirds. Notifying of dead birds will allow Natural Environment to test and confirm any new cases on the Island and set quarantine protocols. Although the photos below show herring gull fatalities across the cliffs at Devil’s Hole (which is very close to Sorel); we’re thankful to announce that the wild chough population is currently stable/unchanged.

Praising mother nature

The keepers couldn’t have been happier to see some much-needed rainfall and accompanying thunderstorms when they came, to clear away some of those high temperatures. We finally had a significant amount of rainfall. The ground around the aviary is still feeling pretty tough but at least it’s gained some form of hydration this month. Once we’d had a few days of rainfall, the grass in the aviary was looking a healthy green again after many months of looking very dried out and brown. But with rainfall comes plant growth, and it is truly amazing how much grass grows after a bit of rain! The keepers are now back into their routine of regularly mowing and strimming the grass inside and outside the aviary – hopefully giving the choughs another great foraging spot for tasty insects.

Choughlet update

As we came closer to the end of August, the aviary became less ‘noisy’ as the youngest chicks belonging to breeding pair Bo & Flieur were becoming independent feeders. Less ‘choughlet’ begging behaviour at their parents and more wing-begging behaviours directed at the keepers! The young choughs are now arriving in their own little flock for the supplementary feed; it’s quite fantastic to see how they’ve learnt, grown and thrive, especially with all this hot weather. Although the feeds may have become quieter in regard to chick begging behaviour, there were still plenty of social hierarchy challenges amongst the young choughs and the adults. Plenty of scrabbles between siblings, young choughs of different parents as well as between some young choughs and adult pairs – the young choughs will soon find their place within the flock’s social structure.

Chough adults

Now that the young choughs are more independent; the parents are becoming less attentive. When the chicks started to feed for themselves the parent pairs would land on a food stand, allow their chicks to join and then move themselves to another stand; almost as if to give the young birds a fighting chance of a free meal before another more dominant pair took over the stand. However, now, the parent pairs will bat away any chicks, including their own! Since the aviary has become quieter, more pairs and other adults that have rarely been seen over the breeding and fledgling season became more frequent visitors such as Corbière pair Danny & Jaune. These two, along with other adults, have been known to avoid the aviary in fledgling season; and I don’t blame them, the choughlets are very noisy and demanding from anyone who will feed them!

                                   

                                                                                          

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