Alpine Chough in Switzerland – PhotoBy Jim Higham from UK – Alpine Chough, Schilthorn, Switzerland, CC BY 2.0,

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.

Red-billed Chough (Photo By Ken Billington – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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.

7 thoughts on “Choughed!

  1. Celia

    Choughs are the ‘national’ bird of Cornwall. Yes, there are some here – and their population is recovering after a decline. They may be seen mostly around certain parts of the coastline.

  2. Rosie

    Thank you this was fascinating. They’re around if rare in Anglesey where we have been lucky enough to spot them.

  3. Liz Norbury

    As Cornwall’s “national” bird, the chough is regarded with great affection – half the organisations in the county seem to include one in their logo – so it was a cause of sorrow when it disappeared from our cliffs in the 1970s. There was a project to re-introduce choughs (in the 1990s, I think), but before it could take effect, a small number of them decided to return of their own accord in 2001! Since then, the RSPB has kept a close watch on their nests on both the Lizard and West Penwith peninsulas, and there are now thought be several hundred choughs in Cornwall. We spotted several of them on our annual Friends of the Towans north coast bird walk (along with 68 other bird species!) in May. I hadn’t heard that there is a risk of the Cornish chough population becoming genetically unviable.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I hadn’t heard about the genetic risk either, but it’s mentioned in the New Scientist film about the reintroduction, if you get a chance to watch it…


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