The chough breeding season is going well here at Paradise Park. So far we have only lost one chick this year. The second chick in nest three died just after hatching – giving an indication of what a traumatic experience breaking out of an egg can be.
We now have three nests with two siblings and one with a solo chick. This gives the parent birds every chance to rear the youngsters, while we closely monitor weight gains and general health. If a chick falls behind, we can give it a boost with supplementary feeding and medication where necessary.
Two chough chicks being weighed
However, the youngsters have kept us on our toes. The larger chick in nest five suddenly started “stargazing” – it’s head folded almost flat over its back. Very worrying. We gave it a course of antibiotics, along with gapeworm treatment and vitamin supplements. The head stayed in the same postion for two days, with the parent birds somehow managing to feed it. Then overnight, the head returned to normal position, much to our amazement.
We had a further scare when the younger chick in nest two had one eye closed, and did not open it even when being handled or fed. Once again, a course of antibiotics soon had it back to normal.
“Stargazer” looking casual and back in nomal health
Most the chicks are now above 200 grams in weight, and it is at this point that we stop taking regular weights. One practical reason for this is that the chicks are beginning to get highly mobile, and when put back in the nest start climbing around.
Another reason is that their feet are now fully developed, and have unbelievably clinging claws. Sometimes trying to get the birds out of the nest can mean pulling some of the nest material out along with the chick, resulting in potential damage to the nest or chick.
We have noticed that the nests this year seem to be less robust than normal – possibly as a result of the birds being put into the aviaries at a late date (due to bird flu movement restrictions).
This is the first year we have seen the chicks sitting on the floor of the nestboxes, on the wood of the box itself. This could lead to the chicks having splayed or deformed feet.
The solution – the Trump Toupee! Once the birds were large enough, we slipped a coir mat underneath, giving them something to grip on to. (We did not do this when they were too small, as there was a risk of the parents pulling the whole thing out – along with the chicks.
Two contented chicks – “Stargazer” and sibling – and Alison
So far our choughs have laid sixteen eggs this year – and there may be more to come from nest four.
Given the ages of some of our breeding birds, we have taken the step of checking all eggs laid to see how many potential chicks to expect. We quickly took the eggs in turn from each nest and tested them by “candling”. (These days we don’t hold the eggs up to a candle, but use the LED light from a smartphone).
A stunning clutch of five eggs
The results were slightly disappointing – with only the eggs in nests two and three being fertile. However, as all the pairs have taken such great time and energy to produce nests, we decided to share the fertile eggs into the infertile nests. We would then put the infertile eggs back in to replace the fertile ones taken. This meant that each successful nest would only have to rear two chicks, spreading the load on the parents.
Five nests, sixteen eggs – possibly with more to come.
Each of the laying pairs now has two fertile eggs to deal with. Two chicks have hatched in nest three, but sadly the younger chick died almost immediately after hatching.
Nest five also has a chick, with another expected to hatch soon. Both sets of parents are doing very well, taking turns to feed the tiny chicks. Hopefully, in the next few days all the remaining fertile eggs will hatch. The infertile eggs will be left in the nests for a few days, as they act as good heat stores when the females are off the nests.
The fine weather has brought a flurry of egg-laying activity.
A Fourth Egg in Nest Three
On Saturday we eggs were laid in nests one, two, and three. (It is likely that the third egg in nest 3 was laid overnight on Friday).
On Sunday, another egg arrived in nest 3, this was first noticed at lunchtime.
Monday brought three more eggs, with additions in nests one and three. Later in the afternoon we had the arrival of the first egg in nest five. This may be a record, as the female in the nest will be nineteen years old this year – making her the oldest known breeding chough.
It gets more difficult to give exact timings, as the females are now sitting on the eggs for longer periods, as incubation begins in earnest.
So, the total at the end of Monday 10th April – nine eggs in four nests, with more on the way…
Just a few days later than last year, we have our first chough egg.
It was laid by the female in nest 3 – she was also the first of our birds to lay last year. She went on to lay four eggs in total. Two of the chicks which hatched were later taken away to be hand-reared.
This female is a seven year-old, and has laid several clutches in the past. Her male partner is a very good parent – taking good care of the chicks when hatched.
Our breeding birds are now in the seclusion aviaries, and nest-building is under way.
Screen shot of all five 2017 nest boxes.
We have installed new high-definition cameras, which show amazing detail of the activities in the nest boxes.
So far, we have four good nests – all from proven breeding pairs. Nest four is a new pairing, and we are still hopeful of nesting soon.
The female in nest five was hatched in 1998, making her nineteen years old this year! She has built a wonderful nest, and will probably lay a clutch of eggs. The clutch she laid last year was infertile, but she may be used as a foster-parent if the opportunity arises.
We (Ali and myself, plus sister Elaine), were a bit late with our Jersey migration this year – but have just returned from a splendid few days catching up with the choughs, sheep, and release team on the island.
The six birds sent from Paradise Park had just completed their quarantine, and were eager to get out on the cliffs with the rest of the flock. They were released on Monday 3rd October – we got there on the evening of the 4th.
Alison & Ray Hales ready for some chough watching (Elaine Hales)
We were very lucky with the weather, and although we stayed dry, the wind was showing signs of impending winter. We soon got to the cliffs and met up with Liz Corry and team – and, of course, the choughs. The birds are being closely monitored, and all the newly released ones have been fitted with radio transmitters. The aerials could be seen through binoculars and it was clear that all the birds were mixing together well.
Bea and Simon from Durrell monitoring the choughs with radio transmitters (Ali Hales)
The chough is renowned for its incredible flying ability, and the Jersey flock is no exception. The older birds have truly mastered their environment, and the youngsters are picking up the same skills at a phenomenal rate – in fact the new and established birds could only be told apart by their transmitters (or lack of). The birds like nothing more than to dance on the updrafts, and ride the thermals. “Like black handkerchiefs blown by the wind” as Elaine said.
The flock of birds can relocate themselves remarkably quickly – one moment they are all feeding close to the aviary – and the next they are several hundred feet up in the air…
Ray & Ali trying to count choughs several hundred feet up (E Hales)
…and if you have a telephoto lens, they look like this.
A soaring flock of twenty-nine choughs (Picture Ali Hales)
We didn’t actually get to see all thirty-five choughs at the same time, although we are sure we encountered them all during our stay. We found out that the “teenagers” (as Liz calls the year-old birds) have decided to go exploring – much the same as last year.
They have been seen several kilometres away on Jersey’s racecourse on the north-west tip of the island. They may be scouting for possible nest sites, or they may have found a new food supply. (There is a small herd of cows in a field in the centre of the course – ideal for trampled grass and cow-pats).
The Bracken Bashers
One of the aims of the Birds on the Edge project is to restore the coastal habitat around the island of Jersey, and as such they use a variety of methods. These include volunteer teams cutting gorse down, and bashing down encroaching bracken with tractors.
Using a tractor and “topper” to keep the bracken at bay ( R Hales)
There is another dedicated team who are out in all weathers doing their bit for conservation. These are the Manx Loaghtan sheep (Manx Longhorns), and they are doing an impressive job. They have increased their flock even quicker than the choughs, there are now in the region of 200 sheep.
I was lucky enough to have a close encounter with one of the ladies on the cliffs while chough watching – it’s almost like she’s guarding them.
Keep up the good work Sharon – and everyone else!
The usual thorough monthly report from the Birds on the Edge team for September is here.
Six young choughs bred at Paradise Park this year have gone to Jersey to be released.
Lee Durrell and Colin Stevenson collected them by plane on August 31st, arriving at Perranporth airfield, near Truro, as they have done in previous years. Lee and Colin were accompanied by Durrell staff Bea Detnon and Jessica Maxwell.
Going by plane saves many hours travelling by ferry, and we are very grateful for Lee and Colin’s help with this. The flight takes just over an hour and means the young choughs will be in the release aviary by the afternoon, after veterinary checks.
Six choughs ready for their longest flight so far (Pic R Hales)
Chough Re-introduction Field Manager at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Liz Corry, was waiting for the birds to arrive. She has planned for the arrival in advance.
The six choughs bred at Durrell Wildlife Park were released a few weeks ago. These birds are to be mentors for the new arrivals. They have been lured back into the release aviary and the Paradise Park birds will join them.
After a short period of quarantine, the whole group of twelve will be let out together to mix with the larger flock. The six local birds will share invaluable knowledge with the new birds, improving their chances of survival.
It is incredibly gratifying to see at first hand the young birds we have raised heading off to be released. Just four months ago we were feeding and weighing these youngsters, and now they are off to Big School…
Chough chick being monitored and weighed. May 2016. (Pic A Hales)
It’s been a busy couple of months here at Paradise Park – however over on Jersey things have been even more hectic.
Fostered chough chicks being fed in release aviary
July saw four chicks being fostered by the “Italian” chough Gianna, before being moved to the release aviary for training and orientation. They were joined by two parent-reared chicks, giving a total of six young birds to join the wild flock.
The wild birds were also producing chicks. Three nests were successfully built, and four wild chicks fledged in all. Last years’ wild male chough Dusty showed signs of maturing early, and was seen making amorous advances.
A wild chough chick being fed by its parent
Full Birds on the Edge July report can be seen here.
All the new arrivals were given time to acclimatise to their surroundings, and their new flock-mates.The youngsters were given some training to respond to the supplementary feeding signals. In August, they were good to go.
Young chough learning how to fend for itself
The new birds quickly adapted, and are now part of the flock. So far, all are doing well, and have been seen taking lots of prey items from larvae to butterflies.
Part of the flock of choughs now on the Jersey coast
There are now thirty choughs in the flock – quite a remarkable feat!
Full Birds on the Edge August release report can be seen here.