Dear Readers, anyone who has ever seen a flock of Alpine choughs ( Pyrrhocorax graculus) in the mountains of Austria or Switzerland will know what social, excitable, energetic birds they are. I’ve loved watching them playing in the wind (and ‘playing’ is the only possible word, as they tumble and dive, seemingly for the sheer hell of it). You can get the idea from the recording below by Stanislas Wroza, taped in the French Alps.
And how about this thoroughly dizzying short film of them flying?
Choughs are members of the crow family, with all the intelligence that that usually indicates, but there are only two species in the genus. While we are not quite mountainous enough for Alpine choughs, we do have a few small populations of the Red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) – there are some on the Isle of Man, some in North Wales and some in Cornwall, plus some on the west coast of Scotland, largely living in the rockiest possible places. In total there are probably about 400 breeding pairs, making them the rarest UK crows. Some populations, like the Cornish choughs, are probably now becoming genetically inviable, with not enough variation to support the birds going forward.
Enter the Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Project, where the aim is to reintroduce Red-billed Choughs to the south of England, where the habitat is suitable but the birds haven’t been seen for over 200 years. Young birds from other parts of the chough’s range have been creche-reared, a special type of rearing which involves feeding the birds as a group so that they get to rely on one other rather than imprinting on the humans. The aim is to release up to 50 birds over the next five years, with the hope of establishing a breeding population which will eventually move west and bring some genetic diversity to the Cornish group. It would be wonderful to see these birds performing their acrobatics over more of the country, and it always gives me hope that people are prepared to spend so much time and effort to try to improve our nature-deprived land. Good luck to the choughs! You can read about them here and to learn more about the science, and about how the scientists are hoping to keep an eye on the choughs once they’re free, have a look at the film here.