Chough Watch


The piercing cries of chough returned to the South West after a 28 year absence. The emblematic bird of Cornwall returned in 2002 to nest on the Lizard after changes in habitat management on the coast by the National Trust.

But the coast of North Devon is also prime chough habitat, with many secluded cliffs and caves providing potential nesting sites. National Trust North Devon is appealing to all walkers, birdwatchers, runners, kayakers, dog walkers, horseriders, farmers and sunset photo snappers to keep their eyes open and report any chough sightings to us.

chough

Pyrrhocorax – the fire crow.

Chough are the rarest member of the crow family in Britain. They have loud screeching “cheow” calls, and are very acrobatic, making the most of ledges and cliffs to launch themselves into the wind, often flying upside down and performing rolls and loops.

The Celtic coasts of Scotland, Wales and the South West provided the right habitat for them as they enjoy grazed cliffs and heathland. In past centuries, sheep, cattle and ponies would have grazed the cliffs year round, keeping vegetation short and providing perfect conditions for choughs to find a supply of insects, such as dung beetles and ants.

Chough often feed in fields with livestock.

Chough often feed in fields with livestock.

However changes to farming practices and persecution meant that by 1910, the chough had disappeared from all southern coastal counties with the exception of Cornwall. Their numbers declined steadily over the century and they vanished completely in the 1970s.

Chough held out in Pembrokeshire, and due to National Trust habitat management they have re-colonised the Gower peninsular which is just across the Bristol Channel from North Devon. We hope that those birds will venture south and start breeding territories here in Devon.

Chough may also re-colonise from the south, either from the re-established Cornish population or from further afield. A French chough, ringed in Bretton, Northern France decided Baggy Point was a great place for a holiday (isn’t it just), spending ten days here in March 2014. Interestingly this bird was the first confirmed sighting of a French ringed chough in Britain. More recently a chough was seen at Brownsham near Hartland on 6th April 2015.

We have big coastline to cover to find out if chough are moving to North Devon, which is why we need your help to spot them. April is a good time to spot nest building activities so keep your eyes open.

Please report any sightings to Jonathan Fairhurst, Woolacombe and Mortehoe Lead Ranger

jonathan.fairhurst@nationaltrust.org.uk 01271 870555

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