By Charlotte Dean
Brand new hatches
The chough team have been racing against the (breeding) season, trying to repair the aviary. The large holes that were in the tops of the aviary’s netting are now fixed; there are only a few little holes left to sew up. In the meantime, the team has been preparing and replacing the release hatches on the front of the aviary. The aviary itself is always left with two release hatches open, so that the visiting choughs can be identified more quickly and with more ease as they fly in than if 43 choughs flew through all four entry points at the same time! The hatches are also an essential for the team to capture the choughs inside if they need to be health-checked or ringed. As the breeding season was well underway, the team needed to ensure that the front release hatches were fully functional. This would ensure that when the ‘choughlets’ had fledged, left their nests and eventually showed up at the aviary, they could be caught and receive their identifying rings. This is, however, if the choughs don’t outsmart the team – which they can do, very often!
Are there chicks among us?
Over the course of early May, it became clear that the pairs’ females had been sitting tight, incubating in their nests. This became obvious to the keepers by the lack of female presence from the known breeding pairs with only the males turning up for food, typically filling up and quickly flying off. To the end of May, we began to notice the females starting to visit the aviary again. Many of the females were wing-begging at the keepers while awaiting the feed. This, combined with the breeding pairs arriving at the aviary in staggered intervals, suggests to us that chicks had hatched and, therefore, the pairs were co-parenting again, each retrieving enough food to feed themselves as well as their hungry chicks at the nest.
Ronez Quarry visit
The team visited Ronez Quarry to renew their health and safety permission with the site and for our new chough student, Grace, to experience the grand tour of the quarry. While visiting, we had the opportunity to see how some of the chough pairs were getting on at their nests. Red & Dingle had built a very nice nest in their usual spot, but unfortunately, much like last year, they had not laid any eggs, but we remain hopeful that they will do later. Dusty & Chickay looked as though they had at least one chick in their nest this year while Bo & Flieur had two if not three little beaks shouting for food in their nest. Kevin & Wally had three chicks in their nest. Four other nests were occupied by Trevor & Noirmont, Lee & Caûvette, Percy & Icho and Green & Pyrrho: these nests were inaccessible without specialized equipment – but there were plenty of chick-related noises and pair visitations that would suggest that these other nests were very active as well!
Plémont pair update
Minty & Rey had a lot of obstacles to overcome this breeding season; they built a nest in a new location at a local stables, but the nest and the choughs were deterred from the area. The team had been monitoring their usual nesting spot in Plémont in the hope that they would return and produce some wild ‘choughlets’. The pair had both been seen visiting the nest, but we didn’t know if they had already laid in their previous nest. While visiting Plémont, it was clear that Rey was incubating on the nest as she flew out on Minty’s arrival to be fed by him on the cliffs above the nest. At the very end of the month, we celebrated the sounds of tiny chick noises and the pair both returning to the nest to feed their chick(s). The chicks were not visible, and we assumed they were only a few days old.