Also known as the Red Billed Chough or Cornish Chough, this non migratory resident is the least common member of the crow family.
39cm to 40cm
73cm to 90cm
260g to 350g
Adult males and females are similar in overall appearance although the female is slightly smaller than the male. They have an all-over glossy black plumage with a blue-green sheen and most noticeably, striking red legs and a long red tapered slightly curved bill. The eyes are black and they have large square wings and a square tail. Particularly apparent in flight are their ‘fingered’ primary wing feathers. Choughs are slightly larger in stature than jackdaws. Juveniles are duller than adults with a pale orange-red bill and red legs. On the wing, they are masters making long upward swoops and steep rapid descents.
Most members of the crow family sound relatively similar albeit that the Chough’s call most resembles that of a jackdaw but with a clearer and louder, chee-ow call.
A small flock of Choughs calling
Simon Elliott, XC596499. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/596499.
Choughs enjoy feeding from old coastal pastures where they dig up earthworms, beetles, ants and other readily available insects and invertebrates using their purpose designed bill to probe into the soil. They will also consider small molluscs and lichen.
Choughs are found throughout southern Europe and beyond. Generally, within the UK choughs can only be found in remote locations in the far west of Wales, western Scotland and Cornwall, where they have only relatively recently been reintroduced and are known locally as Cornish Choughs. Choughs favour sea caves, ruined buildings or holes and fissures in cliff faces in which to nest and thus tend to inhabit mountain areas or high coastal cliffs.
A Cornish legend tells that when King Arthur was on his deathbed he didn’t die but was transformed into a chough and as a reminder, the bird’s bill and legs were coloured red. Choughs have a long history in Cornwall and a single chough appears on the county crest. Not to be outdone, in the 1960s the coat of arms for the Duchy of Cornwall incorporated two choughs facing each other each supporting an ostrich feather either side of fifteen bezants on a black shield.
Choughs are often seen either in pairs or small flocks soaring and diving around cliff edges and can appear particularly graceful and agile. The fingers of their primary wing feathers are easy to spot from the ground as they cavort overhead in an endless exhibition of aerobatic manoeuvring.
Nests can be bulky and are made of sticks, roots, heather and other plants and are lined with hair and wool. They are normally constructed inside mountain rock cracks and fissures, cliff face caves and old disused buildings. One brood of between 3 – 5 eggs coloured white with brown or grey blotches is produced between May to July.
The chough has a lifespan of five to ten years although twenty years plus has been recorded for captive birds.
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