Choughs are a small black crow that are easily distinguished by their matching bright red legs and beak. If you get close enough you can see that the iris of the Chough is also red. Juveniles and adults look similar, but they can be told apart by their call, as adults make a two-syllabled “Chee-ow” sound, juveniles tend to make a hoarser “chuff” sound. Choughs are known for their aerial acrobatics and can often be seen somersaulting around cliff faces.
Average Length: 39-40 cm
Average Lifespan: 7 Years
Average Wingspan: 73-90 cm
Choughs use their long slender beak to probe for insects and larvae on heathlands or grazed grassland. Flocks can be seen feeding in these areas in autumn and winter.
Choughs are monogamous and form pairs for life. Both parents will help build the nest out of large sticks and line it with wool, usually on shelves or crevices on cliffs or quarries, but they will use human-made structures. They lay 3-5 eggs in March/April which are incubated by the female while the male finds and delivers food. There have been reports of a third bird helping the parents during the breeding season. After fledging the young will return to the nesting site to roost for around two months. The young will then join a feeding flock of immature birds which they will leave after a few years when they are ready to breed.
While Choughs are green listed, they still face several threats such as changes in grazing land. Choughs rely on grazing land to feed and the loss of this land to forestry makes it difficult to find enough food. To solve this a mixture of agriculture and forestry is needed. Tourists have also been shown to have a significant effect on Chough populations, with juvenile survival being lowest during the peak tourist season. A final major concern for our Chough populations is their lack of genetic diversity which can have significant impacts on the population through disease and decreased adaptability. Due to historic persecution and hunting, many of the UK’s populations are isolated from each other which can lead to an inbreeding depression. This means the survival and fertility of the populations may be reduced. If other conservation efforts are to succeed, genetic diversity must be introduced to ensure the longevity of these populations.
Do not disturb Choughs during their breeding season, even if you are visiting a protected area.
Support local reintroduction efforts such as the recently successful work in Cornwall.
The Chough appears on the Cornish coat of arms due to the legend that King Arthur turned into a Chough after his death and as a reminder, the birds' legs and bill were coloured red.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/red-billed-chough-pyrrhocorax-pyrrhocorax on 09/08/2023.
British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Chough | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Available at: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/chough (Accessed: 09 August 2023).
Kerbiriou, C., Le Viol, I., Robert, A., Porcher, E., Gourmelon, F., & Julliard, R. (2009). Tourism in protected areas can threaten wild populations: From individual response to population viability of the chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46(3), 657–665. https://doi.org/10.1111/J.1365-2664.2009.01646.X
Reid, J. M., Bignal, E., Bignal, S., McCracken, D. I., Fenn, S. R., Trask, A. E., & Monaghan, P. (2022). Integrating advances in population and evolutionary ecology with conservation strategy through long-term studies of red-billed choughs. Journal of Animal Ecology, 91(1), 20–34. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.13615
RSPB (2023) Chough bird facts: Pyrrhocorax Pyrrhocorax, The RSPB. Available at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/chough/ (Accessed: 09 August 2023).
Trask, A. E., Fenn, S. R., Bignal, E. M., McCracken, D. I., Monaghan, P., & Reid, J. M. (2019). Evaluating the efficacy of independent versus simultaneous management strategies to address ecological and genetic threats to population viability. Journal of Applied Ecology, 56(10), 2264–2273. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13464