Author Archives: RayHales

All five females sitting tight on their clutches of eggs.

Counting our “Chickens”

May 8th 2018

“Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched”, the old saying goes. Today was our day to do just that. With choughs.

The first of the five clutches is due to hatch at the weekend. The weather is now much better, and generally warming up, so it was time to see how many of our thirteen eggs are likely to hatch.

All five females sitting tight on their clutches of eggs.

All five females sitting tight on their clutches of eggs.

This is a fairly simple procedure, using the light from a mobile phone to “candle” the eggs. Ali goes in to each aviary, to add food and generally rummage about in order to distract the adult choughs. I then open the inspection hatches, hand the eggs to keeper Becky Waite, and she checks to see if they are fertile. (I have passed this job over, due to my remarkable inability to notice fully formed chicks inside the eggs).

The birds had been late getting into the aviaries. The weather has been horrible, both before and after the birds have been installed. Winter was nasty, and spring has been wet.

As previously posted, two of our pairs are now quite old, and were infertile last year. We were not expecting great things.

But great things occurred – all thirteen eggs are fertile. This includes two eggs from a female who is twenty years old!

A good day at work.

Female chough inspecting three eggs

First Eggs Laid

April 24th 2018

We now have eggs in four out of five nests. Eight eggs in total.

Female chough inspecting three eggs

Female chough inspecting three eggs

The first egg was laid in nest 1 on April 18th, just a few days later than last year. There are eggs in all other nests, except nest number 5. (The female in this nest will be twenty years old this year).

The Female in nest number 5 continues to build – and dismantle – the nest. She still is not satisfied with it, and has not yet started “sitting in”.

More eggs are due in the next few days. These can be seen on the webcam at here.

Birds building in all five boxes.

It’s Building Time!

April 4th 2018

The chough nest box webcams are now live – click here. (The link does work this time!)

The almost-continual rain has now stopped, and our birds are building in earnest.

Birds building in all five boxes.

Birds building in all five boxes.

We are now into the stage of supplying the nest aviaries with materials. We start with large twigs, then move on to smaller twigs and heather.

In a few days time we will be adding moss and lichens – finally finishing with horse hair.

First choughs checking the nest boxes

2108 Nest Cams Online

28th March 2018

The chough nest box webcams are now live – click here.

After a long winter of rain, rain, more rain, and then snow, our breeding aviaries are ready for birds. The choughs were put in this morning, and are already checking the boxes.

Later today we will put twigs in the aviaries, and the nest-building will start in earnest.

The recent cold, wet weather has pushed back the start of the breeding season, but looking at the birds’ behaviour, they are ready to go!

First choughs checking the nest boxes

First choughs checking the nest boxes

Two chough chicks being weighed

May Breeding Update

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

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

“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

Two contented chicks – “Stargazer” and sibling – and Alison

2017 Nest3 clutch

Egg Swapping Time

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).

2017 Nest3 clutch

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.

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.

A Fourth Egg in Nest 3

A Busy Weekend

The fine weather has brought a flurry of egg-laying activity.

A Fourth Egg in Nest 3

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…

2017 Female in Nest 3

First Egg of 2017

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.

Screen shot of all five nest sites.

2017 Nest Cameras Online

Our breeding birds are now in the seclusion aviaries, and nest-building is under way.

Screen shot of all five nest sites.

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.

The webcam can be seen here.

Alison & Ray Hales ready for some chough watching

Chough watching trip to Jersey

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

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 monitoring the choughs with radio tags

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 high

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 (Ali Hales)

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)

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.