Annual Chough report 2023

Background

Red-billed choughs are considered a rare species in the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and north west France and, until recently, were classified as locally extinct in the Channel Islands. Changes in agricultural practices decimated their habitat and primary food source, resulting in their rarity. Several other bird species have suffered a similar fate.

Birds On The Edge is a conservation initiative to restore coastal farmland habitat in order to benefit these species. The chough (caûvette in Jerriais) is the flagship for this work and in 2010 Durrell began a captive-breeding programme with the intention of releasing offspring into the wild.

Intensively managed releases between 2013 and 2018, coupled with post-release monitoring and care have resulted in a highly successful reintroduction. The Channel Islands is home once again to a breeding population of choughs.

Notable Events and Successes in 2023

The majority of our breeding success in 2023 centred around our pairs nesting in Ronez Quarry. Interesting observations were noted when checking the nests at the site. There were many more nest spots than usual; which suggested to us that others, perhaps younger choughs, were practicing for when they are mature enough to pair-up and breed. It will be exciting to see if our predictions come true in 2024!

Kevin feeding a chick on the aviary. Photograph by Charlotte Dean.

We recorded 18 chicks in nests within Ronez quarry during the year and one from another location which will be ‘assessed’ in the next breeding season. Fifteen of the total 18 chicks fledged to the aviary. Ten of the 18 chicks are still alive to this day and only two chicks out of the 15 that were blood sexed were male. This being said, due to an issue with the laboratory we use to sex birds, we have nine birds that are currently unsexed and who will remain so until they show breeding behaviour in the future. Given the historic sex ratio skew favouring females, we’re hoping that in 2024 a few more males will be produced.

Table 1, indicating the current population size along with the flocks known sex ratio.

Our only ‘wild-hatched’ pair attempted to nest in a stable during 2023 but were unsuccessful in their endeavours. They subsequently returned to Plemont where they have nested before. While it is believed chicks were hatched, sadly they were never seen at the aviary, suggesting they perished.

The pair of chough that have successfully nested at Simon Sands Ltd. were seen nest prospecting in out-buildings at the airport. This behaviour was dissuaded on health and safety grounds. It is hoped they return to the safer location of the old sand extraction site in 2024.

Impatient choughs awaiting supplementary food. Photograph by Charlotte Dean.

Breeding pair Vicq & Pinel surprised the team this season. They brought one chick to the aviary at the very end of July. This is the first time (to our knowledge) this pair has had a successful breeding season. While there were initial reports of them nesting in a stable building in Trinity, they subsequently chose to nest somewhere else, the location of which is currently unknown. We hope that this will be the start of a successful breeding pair for the future.

The flock has lost a total of nine individuals over the course of the year, but has gained ten new members. Of those choughs that have disappeared, their partners have re-paired up and we hope to see some new successful breeding pairs next season. Overall, it has been a successful year.

Activities in 2023

Primary activities continued as detailed below:

Supplemental feeding

Provision of supplemental food continues daily at Sorel. Attendance by the flock varies seasonally and between individuals. It remains a reliable way to ascertain population size. There are currently forty-seven individuals of which over two thirds are now wild-hatched (Released: 13: wild hatched: 34).

Supplemental feeding allows staff to closely monitor health issues and inter-flock behaviour. Concerns can be flagged up quickly and often dealt with on the spot.

Notable leavers and losses

After forty years of service at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Dr Glyn Young hung up his boots for the last time in August. He will be enjoying the retired life after much dedication to the Trust. His wisdom and knowledge will continue through the next generation of conservationists who all benefited from his experience.

A picture of Liz and Glyn when the project began!

Sadly, we lost the oldest chough of the flock and one of the two remaining choughs from the project’s first releases back in 2013. Green, although gone has contributed to the population by siring forty-two chicks over the past twelve years; fifteen of which are still alive today.

Green & Pyrrho enjoying the summer heat. Photograph by Charlotte Dean

Research and monitoring

There have been no exciting island-hops for the usual, same-sex pair of choughs to Guernsey this year. Usual visitors to the island, this pair appeared to have broken up, with only one female being observed foraging at Pleinmont. The other female has now found a male worth sticking around for! This could lead to an exciting new breeding pair in the next coming year.

There a few visits to Ronez quarry this year to undertake nest checks. Only two clutches of chicks were ringed in the nest however, as inclement weather prevented other nests being accessed. Subsequent ringing was carried out when youngsters were caught at the aviaries, but three remain unringed at present.

Three chicks in Kevin & Wally’s nest. Photograph by Tobias Cabaret.

We look forward to 2024 when we welcome a PhD student from Anglia Ruskin University to research the choughs for effects of sound disturbance during the breeding season.

Veterinary cases

One of Kevin and Wally’s chicks from last year’s season (Sallow), was found grounded by a local birder in St John. Initially taken to the JSPCA, Durrell ultimately took responsibility for the bird. It was suspected to have a broken coracoid due to the visual bruising in the area; however, this was thankfully not the case. The chough was also seen to have a low platelet count and was underweight. The veterinary team supplied the chough with pain relief and fluids. The Bird Department provided the diet previously used for the captive choughs. Additional food supplements and tasty treats were given to help fatten him up. In our care, the chough gained 20 grams before he was taken back to the aviary. Before being fully released, we had a licensed ringer, ring the chough and then shut him into one of the sheltered sections of the aviary. He was kept here for a few days to habituate once again to his surroundings and for staff to evaluate his flying ability. Once the team were happy with his progress, he was re-released and is still looking happy and healthy to this day.

The remains of a youngster from 2022, Birch, were found at Ronez. Scant remains were collected, so no post-mortem was performed, but rings allowed us to identity it.

Release aviary maintenance

The Sorel aviary is considered a temporary structure for official planning purposes. Permission to keep the structure standing for the next five years was approved in 2023, which means it will be standing until at least 2027.

Storm Ciaran left devastation throughout the island in 2023 and the aviary at Sorel sustained significant but not catastrophic damage. Large holes were ripped in the netting, and aluminium panelling at the side of the aviary was ripped off. Some of the wooden support structures of the enclosure itself were also left weakened and broken.

The aviaries fallen wooden framework. Photograph by Charlotte Dean.

The aviary netting holes require National Trust assistance to help bring our large henchman ladder to the aviary to have the holes reachable to fix. We are working on these repairs between the National Trust and our own staff availability. The wooden framework is a much bigger job which will be fixed at a later date by our maintenance team at Durrell.

Choughs flying over the aviary. Photograph by Abbie Thomson.

In autumn, we secured a grant from the Government of Jersey’s Countryside Enhancement Scheme to fund new netting for the aviary. Thanks to the States of Jersey for this funding, which will enable us to replace the damaged netting in 2024.

Chough report – June 2023

By Charlotte Dean

Our sincere apologies for the delays in circulating monthly reports. We hope to start catching up.

Wild weather
It’s that season again when the chough team make arrangements with Ronez Quarry to access the chough nests for the first nest checks and chick ringing. Unfortunately, the weather this year was not in our favour. As the quarry is an unsheltered area along the north coast, there is no easy or safe way to access high nests in winds above F4. Most of June had this level of wind so the team and quarry staff agreed it wasn’t worth the risk. However, we could at least access some of the nests on foot. The pairs we managed to access this way were those of Kevin & Wally, which had three very noisy chicks inside, and Bo & Flieur whose nest surprised us with four chicks! The chicks were ringed with our year colour for 2023 which was Pink and will be accompanied with another coloured ring for easy identification in the field. The chicks were also blood sexed, weighed and measured before being placed back into their respective nests. Without access to the other nests the team can at least acknowledge that there are currently seven chicks in two nests so far; but as there is plenty of activity in other well-known nests, we’re sure we’ll have more chicks.

Quarry updates
The quarry also witnessed a few unsuccessful fledging events this year due to the adverse weather; practically a whole month of high winds. One chick was found dead beneath a nest site for pair Green & Pyrrho. We believe that it could have died from the impact after falling from the nest, it was not, however, of fledging age and, therefore, we assume it’s death may have been caused by some sibling rivalry for space in the nest. Later, fledglings emerging from Kevin & Wally’s nest were also found on the ground near their nest site. Both were initially going to be collected by quarry staff to be assessed for cause of death by the Durrell veterinary team. However, one chick had already been predated by then. We were thankful to know that at least one chick from Kevin & Wally had also been seen by quarry staff wing-begging at its parents from the staircase just outside their nest site, looking active and healthy. Since Kevin & Wally’s chick emerged from their nest, the quarry staff have contacted us about other chicks that have been seen around the quarry as well; we can safely say that the quarry is starting to get more noisy than usual!

Plémont pair
The Plémont pair, Minty & Rey had been seen feeding chicks in their cave nest at a few days old at the end of May, which was very exciting news for our truly wild pair. Both Minty & Rey had both been seen at the Sorel Aviary every day since then. To the team, this seemed like a big issue. This could indicate that Minty & Rey were not finding enough food from foraging around their nesting area and, therefore, were coming to the aviary for food. When spending long periods of time at the aviary as a pair, they were leaving their newly hatched chicks in a nest unprotected. The chough team visited their nest the week after and were faced with silence. It was assumed that while they were still coming to the aviary for food, their chicks were predated in their absence. It has been a great shame to witness the silence from within their nest again this year. We are hopeful that they will find a new and successful place next breeding season. 

First choughlet at the aviary
The wait is finally over, the team finally heard the calls of a hungry chick at the aviary. The first pair whose fledged chicks came to the aviary this year were, perhaps unsurprisingly, Kevin & Wally on 15th June. And it wasn’t long before the other pairs started to bring their chicks too. Green & Pyrrho and Percy & Icho both brought two chicks a few days later. Dusty & Chickay, Bo & Flieur and Lee & Caûvette brought chicks at the very end of the month. Dusty & Chickay and Bo & Flieur both brought two chicks and Lee & Caûvette brought the one. Trevor & Noirmont’s nest was looked at in our Ronez Quarry visit but their chicks were a lot younger than the other breeding pairs’ – we expect them to arrive early next month.

 

Chough report – May 2023

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.

 

Chough report – April 2023

By Charlotte Dean

Easter Monday

Many of the breeding pairs were seen collecting wool on the fields and flying in the direction of Ronez Quarry. The younger choughs were also enjoying all the wool floating along the fields; they were often seen rolling around on the grass with it. With all the extra time the choughs were spending in the fields collecting wool and with Easter around the corner, the team had some Easter related enrichment put out in the fields adjacent to the aviary. A fun new part of the Island for the choughs to explore. The wind over the coast did make it more interesting for them to approach; but even the sheep were curious about the new objects.

So far, it seemed that the choughs were already behind in their nest building compared with last year’s breeding season. It was also interesting to see that the captive choughs at Paradise Park already had chicks hatching! The Jersey team continued to be hopeful that with all this wool collecting observed, there would be definite signs of egg-laying for the Sorel choughs soon!

Behavioural changes

The second half of April saw plenty of exciting behaviour at Sorel. A few of the known breeding males in the flock were seen feeding and displaying at (is that to?) their females; notably: Dusty, Dingle and Percy. Many persistent displays from the males were going on before and during the feeds but so far, the majority of the females had shown no real interest. However, as April drew to an end, it was clear to see that the breeding season was well on the way. Around mid-April we had started observing females begging from their males for food. We all know what that means; the incubation period has begun, and breeding males need to make sure they’re feeding their females on the nest! To our knowledge, the first pairs to start incubating this year were: Dusty & Chickay, Kevin & Wally and Percy & Icho. We know this because the males provide all the food to the female on the nest and these males were showing up to the supplementary feeds without their partners several times each day. The remaining potential breeding pairs in the flock, particularly Bo & Flieur, Trevor & Noirmont and Lee & Cauvette were not long behind them.

News from around Jersey

It seems that one pair (Danny & Jaune) who could potentially be our second ‘wild breeding pair’, had been using Simon Sands in St Ouen’s Bay as a safe roosting area and but have moved on from St Ouen’s and settled in a little further inland in St Peter. The pair have found another building with a nice overhang to nest in this year. We currently have some uncertainty over whether this is their active nest at this time. However, the team are hoping that this year is their year! Our other truly wild breeding pair is Minty & Rey. Last year, Minty & Rey unfortunately lost their chicks before fledging and we think that this may have been why they had not rebuilt their nest in their usual spot in Plémont. They were still being seen at Plémont this month; however, we’ve had many sightings of them in the Grosnez area too and even some evidence of them nesting in a stables! Their nest site was discovered but unfortunately the owners had already persuaded the choughs to nest elsewhere and the pair were seen using their usual nesting spot in Plémont again so we are hopeful that they will have better luck with their offspring this year.

Chough report – March 2023

By Charlotte Dean

Ronez Quarry chough activity update

As Ronez Quarry provides perfect nesting sites for the choughs, we have a great understanding with the owners in regard to ‘our’ choughs. Our chough team may be somewhat lacking this year, but the employees of the quarry are always happy to help give insights into the choughs’ activities within the quarry. Although around the aviary we hadn’t seen much of any nest material gathering, a sign of spring in previous years; it became apparent that the pairs had started separating from the flock and finding their own places to roost and nest. The quarry had plenty of activity at the usual nest site of pairs: Dusty & Chickay and Trevor & Noirmont, but not much for any of the other breeding pairs so far.

There was a lot of activity in three new areas in the quarry that haven’t been used in previous years; it will be interesting to find out who is using these new areas for nesting. The chough team will spend time at the quarry to try and identify whose nests are where, as when it comes to ringing the chicks in the nests, they will know who the chicks belong to once they arrive at the aviary.

Sheep wool

The sight of a breeding pair (Percy & Icho) carrying nesting material in flight towards the quarry was good news. But it wasn’t just any nesting material; they were carrying wool! Wool is generally the last material collected for nest building, for a warm and comfortable interior. This suggests that the choughs in question, Percy, and his mate Icho, may be close to finishing their nest building soon! But for now, we wait patiently to notice their behaviour changes. Once they’ve finished building their nests the males turn their attention to impressing their females with attentive courtship and displays. Choughs have several courtships displays. One, mirrored flight, is where the female and male will follow each other’s exact flight patterns. Others include courtship displaying and feeding. Displaying is one of the few ways male choughs ‘flirt’ with their female; they do this by spreading their wings out and shaking. And if those aren’t enough to convince the female he’s good enough to raise her chicks; he’ll also feed her!

A wandering chough

Almost un-noticed, Portelet has been off to Guernsey again. This time she seemingly went alone, was welcomed on our sister Isle but flew back home again. She didn’t miss a supplementary feed! Portelet does show us that inter-island travel is fairly straight forward, and we still look forward to colonisation.

We’ve been approved!

The planning permission for the Sorel aviary was accepted and the aviary will see another five years. Now that the planning permission has been accepted; essential aviary maintenance can commence. The first priority is to fix the holes in the aviary’s netting, these holes have occurred through the wild weather the aviary is always being battered by. The holes could cause a dilemma in the next essential catch-up if not fixed as a chough could escape from the aviary, they’re that big. The clock is ticking for this work to be complete with the chough pairs becoming more attentive. With a little help from the Government of Jersey’s Environment Team, we could get our equipment up to the aviary to start fixing those dreaded netting holes. Once the holes are fixed, we are hoping to move our attention to fitting brand new hatches.

 

Chough report – February 2023

By Charlotte Dean

Public sightings

The public of Jersey have been giving us lots of sightings of the choughs as they move around the Island which is brilliant. One of the most popular spots the choughs are using as foraging habitat is Les Landes Common and Racecourse. Some of those choughs identified as using these spots are Trevor, Noirmont, Minty, Rey, Lee & Cauvette. But very often there are more than 20 choughs there at a time. It’s not surprising that they use Les Landes as a foraging spot as, as well as cattle, there are the horses that use the racecourse, all providing the choughs with dung, which may be alive with lots of tasty larvae for the choughs to consume.

Chough activity update from Simon Sand & Gravel Limited

Last year we had a chough pair, identified as Danny & Jaune, building a nest within the Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd site in St Ouen’s Bay. We’ve kept in contact with this company as choughs do generally nest each year in the same or similar areas. Last year, this pair didn’t get too far with their breeding situation. They managed to start building a nest between them, but unfortunately another (unknown) species took over their nest. This year we were informed of a pair roosting in the roof/overhang of one of their buildings but after a few days of them roosting there, they hadn’t seen them since. So it could be that they’ve found somewhere else to nest nearby. The chough team will be searching for their new nest site area. Furthermore, if this pair successfully breed, it won’t only be their first true breeding year, it’ll also be our second pair to produce real ‘wild’ chicks (chicks from a pair that were both hatched themselves wildly).

The results are in!

The results are in for the five juveniles which had the pleasure of having their blood tested for the reasoning of finding out their sexes. In November tests were taken on Birch, Sallow, Willow, Pine and Liberty. Birch, fledged from Dusty & Chickay’s nest, has been ‘playing the field’ so to speak with some of the females in the flock and it’s good to see that Birch is in fact a male. Sallow, fledged from Kevin & Wally’s nest, has stopped showing an interest in Portelet but has moved on to Archirondel and is also a male. Willow, Pine and Liberty are all females. Willow, fledging from Green & Pyrrho’s brood, Pine from Percy & Icho’s, Liberty from Kevin & Wally’s. It seems that last year’s sex ratio is looking pretty even so far. Hopefully, when the rest of the 2022 juveniles are tested, we will see some more males!

Campaign to create Seabird Reserve moves to next stage

A campaign by Birds On The Edge to save the Island’s much loved puffin by the creation of a Seabird Reserve has moved a step closer with the submission of a planning application for a section of profile fencing.

The proposed Seabird Reserve will require the erection of a one-mile predator proof fence to protect the puffins, their eggs and chicks from non-native predators such as rats and ferrets (mammals like these are a threat to seabirds worldwide). An application is being submitted for the erection of a temporary section of the fence so that people can see for themselves what the Seabird Reserve might look like.

The profile fencing section will be a 15-metre-long section constructed in the same area where the real fence would be proposed in the future.  The mock-up will be identical in height, colour, and overall look of a real predator fence. It will be in place for a minimum of two months before being removed, to give all members of the community the opportunity to visit the area and see the section for themselves. The public will also be encouraged to engage with the project via a range of platforms including drop-in sessions, opinion polls, and social media.

 

It is hoped that this will demonstrate to the public both the visual impact the fence will have on the landscape as well as the protection that it will afford to coastal wildlife. The BOTE Partnership will also use the opportunity to help boost understanding of the project and wider appreciation of the wildlife found at Plémont.

BOTE ultimately wants the people of Jersey to see and decide for themselves if this project is a fair compromise in order to protect the puffins and other wildlife from becoming extinct in Jersey.

BOTE’s Cris Sellarés, Project Officer, commented on the application:

“There are now likely to only be eight puffins left in Jersey.  If we don’t do something now, there is a real risk that we will lose the iconic seabird which plays such an important part in Jersey’s natural and cultural heritage.

However, BOTE fully recognise that such a strategy comes at a price and the proposed fence will have some visual impact upon the coastal landscape. It is, therefore, imperative that Jersey’s community has the opportunity to assess the impact for themselves and decide whether they feel this project should go ahead. Such decisions are never easy but undoubtedly will be increasingly required if our community is going to play a full and active role in addressing the current biodiversity crisis.

The continuing loss of biodiversity in Jersey through local extinctions will inevitably result in a denuded and poorer environment for this generation and those that follow on. Already we have seen the loss of the yellowhammer and turtle dove and alarming declines in such species as starling and cuckoo. The time has now come to decide whether we wish to see the puffin and other seabirds follow suit or actively attempt to find solutions.”

Glyn Young, co-founder of BOTE said:

“Provision of a predator-proof fence to protect our Island’s remaining puffins and other seabirds may be the last hope we have to keep these wonderful birds in Jersey. Seabirds today face a multitude of global problems from changing sea temperatures and overfishing to pollution and human disturbance. They need safe areas to nest and rear their young away from non-native predators, who if left free to access nest sites would eat the birds’ eggs and chicks. The proposed site, free of predators, will likely see the return of former breeding seabirds such as the Manx shearwater and storm petrel too. They visit our coast annually but recognise that the Island is currently unsafe for nesting. BOTE invited Kirsty Swinnerton to draft an initial proposal in 2018. Delayed by the pandemic it is exciting to see this project progressing so well. Fencing of this kind has been very successful in protecting endangered seabird populations in Hawaii, New Zealand and elsewhere. Without making bold advances like this, Jersey will face the loss of large components of its natural environment and become a poorer place”.

Chough report – January 2023

It’s too early!

With all this warm, not so wintery weather, it seems that all the choughs are becoming very attentive to one another. This is good news for pair bonds and for our team to acknowledge potential candidates for breeding this year. We’re happy to see that our eleven pairs from last year are starting to rekindle their bonds again, ready for the breeding season. But surely, it’s definitely too early for all these feeding courtship behaviours! Apart from our eleven adult pairs, we’ve again been seeing relationships blossoming between some of the juveniles from 2022. Liberty, who was hatched by Kevin & Wally, has been paying close attention to one of our three-year-old choughs; Archirondel. We have also been seeing mutual preening going on between some of the juveniles; Pine, one of Lee & Caûvette’s young from 2022 has taken to Aspen, one of Percy & Icho’s young from 2022. This may just be the juveniles learning to be attentive, in practice for future mates – but we can hope that this might bring forward some more real wild hatched chicks in the near future.

Chough foraging spots

Over the years it has been clear that the choughs spend a lot of time around the Les Landes area, whether that be at the Racecourse grounds, the model airfield or the tower. Les Landes provides the choughs with large stretches of semi-natural grassland to forage on; so, you can see the attraction. We’ve recently had sightings of pairs of choughs in Les Landes; namely Minty & Rey and Trevor & Noirmont. Minty & Rey may start foraging more often in this area once they start setting up their nest; but for the rest of the choughs, they’ll more likely be sticking a bit closer to the Sorel area; unless insect numbers here are too sparse. Interestingly, Lee & Cauvette, formerly almost resident at Les Landes, while undoubtedly doing well have not been seen at the Racecourse for many months.

Only one ‘wild’ nest box left!

At the end of the month, one of the nest-boxes installed on the cliffs eight years ago (in February 2015) in case there were too few natural crevices and caves available for nesting, was destroyed by the stormy weather. Our chough student, Kira, was able to pick up the pieces close to the cliffpath some distance east of where the box had been installed. Of three boxes installed on the cliffs in 2015, only one now remains and, while inspected, none have been used by the choughs! The same design of chough nest box has proven successful for nesting in other places around the Island and, although these cliff boxes haven’t persuaded a chough to use them as a nest yet, with the growing population, there is still a chance the remaining box will be used in the future – or even be used by another, grateful, bird species.

 

Jersey’s 22nd annual Great Garden Birdwatch – 4th and 5th February 2023

Counting birds in the garden for a good cause, as well as for fun

By Andrew Koester, Survey coordinator and Glyn Young

The Action for Wildlife Jersey and Birds On The Edge annual Great Garden Birdwatch returns this year for its 22nd year in succession and it is hoped that as many people as possible will help to build up a picture of the health of the Island’s bird population. 

This year, the Great Garden Birdwatch will be held over the weekend of 4th and 5th February. The method of the count is very straight forward. Basically, you just need to grab a coffee, a comfy seat a handy garden bird guide and then look out into the garden for an hour on either Saturday or Sunday morning and write down what birds you see and the maximum number of each species at any one time.

Oh, and for one weekend a year, red squirrels are birds. We’re not sure what they think about that, we’ve tried asking but they are too busy – maybe they accept that it’s an honour.

Everyone who takes part in the count is a citizen scientist and doing their own small bit to help us understand our garden birds that bit better. Most of all though, it’s fun and will remind you how important our birds are to us and how much we need them to help us feel alive and well. And they’ll take your mind off things. So, please complete either an online form or download a copy (below) and email it on one day over the weekend and help us see how our birds are doing.

If you do see an red-billed chough, don’t be surprised and don’t forget – squirrels are birds!

Please use the online survey form Great Garden Birdwatch Survey Form 2023 or download from this website here and then return the form to us by any of the following methods: By Email: afw.jersey@outlook.com or birdsote@gmail.com by Message to Action for Wildlife Jersey on Facebook

Thank you for your participation in this year’s survey.

Andrew Koester, Survey coordinator and Glyn Young, Birds On The Edge

Chough report – December 2022

By Charlotte Dean

Juveniles taking their pick

We may not have all our chicks blood sampled and sexed yet but there are plenty of signs of relationships developing between the juveniles and a few of our young females. We’re still seeing Sallow, a (potential) male chough from Kevin & Wally’s brood, getting very friendly with Portelet, a female which was wild hatched in 2020. Birch, another potential male chough from Dusty & Chickay’s brood, is becoming acquainted with Chewbacca. As the juveniles settle into their places within the flock, more may be taking their pick of the single ladies of the group. Rocco who was wild hatched in 2020 has been seen arriving at the aviary and allopreening with Alder another potential male from Dusty & Chickay’s clutch. Without the blood sample results we cannot be one hundred percent certain yet that these are true pairs emerging, but looking at the size of these birds, and we have some weights, we have a good idea that they are. Looking at behaviours we’ve been seeing between these new acquaintances too, it could be that within the next few years, or even next year, we’ll hopefully have a few new wild hatched pairs to produce truly wild chicks!

Grazers bring the goods

The National Trust for Jersey’s shepherd is currently managing the coastal landscapes by moving sheep (the grazers) around the Island. Some of those sheep are currently in several fields around Sorel, where the choughs spend most of their time foraging alongside them. The sheep act as a natural land management tool to help restore vegetation and plant and bird communities. The sheep graze in neighbouring fields around the aviary and on the coastline giving our choughs and other bird species a good place to forage. Choughs, favour shorter length grasslands and this is typically where insect diversity is higher. But the choughs do not only forage alongside the sheep, the sheep also provide the choughs with tasty insect larvae that are found in their faeces. During the year we’ve had sightings of the choughs regularly returning to a field containing cattle in St Mary; cattle provide similar benefits to the sheep. But once the cattle were moved, it was not a shock to find that the choughs had moved on to a new foraging spot. It won’t be too long until the choughs start using the grazers for another purpose too – their wool!

Everyone deserves a present

It’s coming to the end of the year, 2022, and we all know what that means, Christmas! But it’s not only us humans who get to enjoy celebrating over the Christmas holidays; the choughs deserve a piece of the joy at Sorel as well. The keepers got creative this year by making some ‘Christmas present’ enrichment. Compared to the scary bright orange pumpkin that loomed in the field at Halloween, the choughs were much less cautious of their new ‘Christmas present’ in one of their usual foraging fields. With some insect persuasion it wasn’t long until the choughs approached their Christmas gift. Interestingly, it was not the juvenile choughs that approached the present first, it was the adults.

End of year review

The wild chough flock on the island has a population of 43 currently. To our knowledge we’ve had no adults go missing over the course of this year. We have also had our highest record of chick survival since the project began; lucky number thirteen. There may be more breeding pairs in the coming year too, not just from the juveniles, as we located our highest number of nest sites around the Island – 15 nests! Who knows, we may even have a breeding pair nest in Guernsey as we know at least two of our females enjoyed a weekend trip away. The chough team are looking forward to what the new year brings for this growing population.