By Liz Corry
June. The month chough chicks leave the nest and, after a long wait, the month I leave Jersey to see family and friends. That being said I still have a lot to write about despite having half of June off.
I was on staycation for the first week in June. Naturally that meant a visit to Plémont to check on the nest. Coffee, cake, and chough chicks. Perfect holiday setup. By this stage the chicks were large enough to be seen and loud enough to hear from Sorel! OK, maybe not, but they certainly were not inconspicuous whenever the parents returned with food.
Two weeks later one brave chick started bouldering outside of the nest clinging to the cliff face making mum and dad work even harder. This coincided with my trip back to England. Typical!
Paul Pestana, ex-Durrell and onetime student on the chough project, kept me updated with their activities. The current student, Riccardo, did his best to keep track of them too. Every time he went it was either raining (and therefore the birds were sheltering out of sight) or the family were off gadding about. It’s almost as if the choughs were playing a game with us.
Paul spotted two of the three chicks out by the 20th and up at the headland near the main car park. These are the first chicks whose parents are both wild-hatched. Genuine Jersey choughs!
Fingers crossed all three chicks continue to avoid peregrine and black-backed gulls and find enough food to survive into July. At least they have their parents to follow around for several weeks before becoming independent.
Ronez nests fledge
Plémont was one of the last nests to fledge. The first of the eight surviving nests in Ronez Quarry began fledging at the start of June. The youngsters could be seen outside of their respective nest buildings practicing flying and building confidence. The chicks had to compete to be heard over the noise from several black-backed gull and dozens of herring gull nests.
Kevin and Wally’s chicks made their first appearance at the supplemental feed on the 7th shortly followed by Dusty’s three chicks on the 10th.
As reported last month, we knew Dusty and Chickay had three chicks in the nest and it was really pleasing to see all three fledge. The other nests remained a mystery until fledging because our plans to ring chicks in the nest had to be cancelled twice. On one occasion we postponed due to the force 9 gales blowing around the bottom quarry. Not the best time to be up a ladder!
On the 16th, Bo and Flieur arrived with three chicks in tow. The following day Trevor and Noirmont arrived with two chicks and Lee and Caûvette were next with one chick. So far, the other three pairs have failed to show with chicks.
One pair have good reason. We believe the male is missing presumed dead and his partner, Pyrrho, has re-paired with Green whose brood died last month. The other two pairs, nesting in boxes, should have fledged chicks by now so it appears the chick(s) perished before making it over to Sorel.
As the month came to a close, we had accessioned twenty chicks. Eleven of which had joined the flock at the supplemental feed.
Ringing chicks at the aviary
Once fledged, the young will remain with their parents for several weeks following them around begging for food. They gradually learn to become independent, growing in confidence every day. You can see this happening in real time when you visit the supplemental feed site: at first, they sit on the roof of the aviary expecting their parents to go get the extra food. It takes about a week before they start getting confident enough to venture inside. A few weeks later and they race their parents to get to the food.
For us, this means we have to bide our time before we can start trapping young inside the aviary to fit identity rings and get DNA samples to determine sex. Our first attempt this year was on 30th June.
We managed to trap three of the new chicks inside the aviary along with several adults. This year’s colour ring is yellow; the yellow rings also have a number stamped on to help ID in the field.
The ‘Jersey’ red and white striped rings are no longer available. Until we can find a new supplier the birds will just have the metal Jersey Museum ring on one leg and two plastic rings on the other. We might stick with this combo as it means less ‘baggage’ for the birds.
One of the chicks was noticeably smaller and still had some grey colouration to its bill. This suggests it was younger and, therefore, from a different brood.
Of the adults, we had caught Minty and Rey which meant we could replace Rey’s missing white and faded cerise rings. We released them and the other adults immediately so they could return to their chicks.
Dusty and Chickay were the only choughs to stick around outside the aviary whilst all this was going on. Upon release, two of the chicks flew directly to them heavily hinting at possible parentage. We now get to play match-the-ringed-chick-to-the-adult as they continue to feed their young. If we can catch them in time!
Far easier to manage are the chough chicks in the Zoo. Penny and Tristan have reared another brood. Well mostly Penny has since Tristan was temporarily moved out when he started showing signs of aggression. We knew we had at least two chicks from the begging noises coming from the box. Electrical issues with the camera set-up meant we had to wait until we ringed them in the nest to discover we actually had four chicks!
All four were ringed and DNA sexed and are now flying around on public display.