15 June 2014

Chough breeding success

Choughs are much rarer than their relatives in the corvid family, such as Carrion Crows and Jackdaws. They are intermediate in size between these two, and superficially similar to both. All three, as well as Ravens, occur on the south Gower cliffs. Four predominantly black corvids, but so different. The Chough is special. Its red bill and legs set it apart from the other similar species, but there is so much more to it than that. The Chough feeds in a different way, probing and digging (sometimes they really do dig, not just probe) with its decurved bill in the short clifftop turf.
Feeding in January 2014

When flying they will often put on an exhibition of aerobatics that seems to have no point other than to have fun. The call of the Chough is distinctive (imagine Chough is pronounced to rhyme with “plough”, rather than “enough” and you’re not far off), and it is a very vocal bird. Usually Choughs guide you to where they are by their incessant calling. They are very engaging and often quite easy to approach when they are busy feeding. It is easy to become a Chough enthusiast.
 Pair 1 making a lot of noise near the nest site

Choughs are resident in south Gower; throughout the winter they are around on the clifftops probing and digging for prey, usually in pairs or small groups. It gets a bit quieter in the spring as the serious business of breeding begins. There is then a period of wondering how many birds are breeding and at which sites. In my clifftop area (Thurba-Mewslade-Rhossili) the tension is over: on June 13 the first juvenile Choughs appeared. Three birds at first, then it became clear on June 14 that there are eight juveniles from three pairs, and this is all in about a kilometre of coastline. One pair is a new one at a new site, as far as I know. The three broods are four, two and two, with the four being from the longest established pair (Pair 1). One bird in Pair 1 has a green and a red ring on its left leg; this is quite easy to spot and makes this pair, which I see very frequently, easy to identify.
 Pair 1 with their four offspring, June 15, 2014
  The smallest of the brood of four looked a bit weak at first but looks fine now:
June 15
The whole brood look to be in good condition:

Both of the birds in Pair 2 have colour rings. Pair 2 near their nest site:
The top bird in the photo has an unusual bill with crossed mandibles (which doesn't seem to be a problem). This is one of their two offspring:

Pair 3 came as a complete surprise to me when I came upon them, with one barely fledged juvenile, on June 13. The adults made it very clear that I was not welcome, so I quickly left.
One of the Pair 3 adults displaying aggression towards me
A day later the two adults were on top of the cliff nearest to the nest site with two juveniles, obviously recently fledged. Both of these adults do not have rings. Both juveniles seem to be doing well.

At this stage it looks like a very successful breeding season for the local Chough population.

1 comment:

Barry Stewart said...

Really nice account Philip and great to hear these birds have had such success this year. Hopefully there will be a similar story from the Pennard end and we look forward to seeing some larger flock later this year.