Author Archives: RayHales

Mike reynolds and Robin Hanbury Tenison

Happy Birthday Operation Chough

Operation Chough looks back on thirty-six years since its official launch on August 4th 1987. Here are some of our highlights, from first chicks in 1976 to releases in England in 2023.

Mike Reynolds & Robin Hanbury-Tenison

Paradise Park’s founder, Mike Reynolds, had been interested in restoring Red-billed Choughs to Cornwall since the park had opened in 1973. Working with Padstow Bird Gardens, there have been choughs at Paradise Park almost since day one. We bred our first chough chick in 1976, and funded a PhD on chough ecology by Dr Richard Meyer. We continued to expand our flock, which is now some fifty birds strong, and have donated dozens of choughs to our restoration partners.

2003 Trial Release

In August 2003 we released a small cohort of six choughs near Zennor. The birds were radio-tagged, which was quite a new technology at the time, and we continued to monitor their movements for several months. Unfortunately, four birds perished in differing circumstances over the next few weeks, but two birds eventually settled at Wicca. These birds were a breeding pair, and would almost certainly have bred the following year.

A pair of chattering choughs – Pic Ali Hales

The pair had an obvious territory, and we continued to watch their behaviour into the winter months. They were highly attuned to their environment, to the point of following the local herd of organic cows for cow-pats – but waiting for several days for insects to lay eggs, and larvae develop. Sadly, one day in December, we discovered one bird had been shot by a local man, The other bird was never seen again. A difficult end to a very promising trial.

2013 Jersey Release

We formed a partnership with Durrell Wildlfie Conservation Trust in 2010, and examined the possibility of a re-establishment of the Red-billed Chough on Jersey. This was part of a larger initiative to improve the coastal habitat of Jersey called “Birds on the Edge”

Liz Corry, Ali & Ray Hales at the release aviary

In Summer 2013, the first six birds were released from the purpose-built aviary on the Jersey coast. The monitoring team was lead by Liz Corry, who did a remarkable job in the next years, following the birds movements every day come rain, hail and sometimes sun. More birds were added to the group each year for five years.

A lot of the choughs had adopted a local coastal quarry. In 2015 one of the original pairs produced a chick in one of the huge quarry buildings – aptly called “Dusty”! The first chough chick hatched in the wild on Jersey in over one hundred years. Dusty has now produced his own young, and is still flying free over the Jersey cliffs.

Chough chick in quarry nest aged fourteen days
Chough chick in quarry nest aged fourteen days – Pic Liz Corry

2023 Kent Release

In 2015 we began our planning our next phase of releases – this time on the coast of Kent near Dover. We have partnered up with Kent Wildlife Trust, Wildwood Trust, and other organisations, with the aim of putting the chough over the White Cliffs of Dover. The chough is well-known in the folk-lore of Kent, much as it is in Cornwall. Sadly, it has been absent for much longer – more than 200 years!

As with the Jersey re-establishment, it is hoped that the chough will act as a flagship species to promote further habitat restoration in the areas where it is introduced. Also, as with the Jersey releases, Liz Corry is leading the field work – hoping to repeat earlier success.

The initial birds were installed in the release aviary last year, but due to bad weather, the release was postponed until 2023. The first brief flights have already taken place, and we are hoping the choughs will begin to range further over the next months.

Laura Gardner on the chough release in Kent 2023

Director of Conservation at Wildwood Trust, Laura Gardner, says watching them soar into the sky was a huge moment for everyone involved:

“Releasing the choughs into the wild felt a bit like sending your child to nursery for the first time – a wonderful milestone but not without a certain level of anxiety! We need to make sure they have all the relevant skills they need so they can not only survive but thrive.

Paradise Park’s choughs released at Kent coast

Ten Red-billed Choughs, which are part of the well-established group at Paradise Park in Cornwall, are being released near Dover. This is part of a project with our partners Wildwood Trust and Kent Wildlife Trust.

Choughs in the flocking aviary at Paradise Park in Cornwall - Pic Ali Hales
Choughs in the flocking aviary at Paradise Park in Cornwall. Pic Ali Hales

A large aviary is home to the initial cohort of young birds, with the soft release being undertaken by Liz Corry of Wildwood Trust. Liz has been part of the team to re-establish the species on Jersey in The Channel Islands. There is now a population of over forty birds living and breeding in the wild on Jersey.

The species has been absent from Kent for 200 years so this is an exciting time for us at Paradise Park. Director Alison Hales said “It will be wonderful to see these fabulous birds flying over the white cliffs of Dover soon.”

The White Cliffs near Dover - home for choughs?
The White Cliffs near Dover – home for choughs. Pic Ali Hales

More young birds bred at Paradise Park will be making the journey from Cornwall to Kent as releases will continue for a minimum of five years. The Red-billed Chough is a sedentary species so returning them to Kent will, in future, help to join up the isolated populations in the UK.

Four chough chicks destined to be released in Kent - Pic Ray Hales
Four chough chicks at Paradise Park, Cornwall, destined to be released in Kent. Pic Ray Hales

We are working to create further partnerships, with the aim of future releases along the South coast of England and help join up the isolated UK populations of this sedentary species.

Many thanks to everyone who has visited Paradise Park and supported our Chough project. Donations welcome here.

Red-billed chough chick looking out from nest box

Breeding Report 2023

This year has been our most successful chough breeding season, thanks to a combination of an increased number of aviaries, and the long hours of constant monitoring. As always, there was a mixture of highs and lows.

The five new purpose-built chough breeding aviaries were finished on time, and the breeding pairs were put in place on Valentine’s Day as planned. This year we had eight pairs of choughs set up in seclusion aviaries, with another pair in our original chough aviary in the main park (first used in 1976). The remaining birds of our flock stayed in the large poyltunnel flight aviaries – where one pair was also successful, and raised a single chick.

Chough chick looking out from its nest box in the polytunnel aviary - Pic Ali Hales
Chough chick looking out from its nest box in the polytunnel aviary – Pic Ali Hales

The nest box cameras once again proved invaluable, giving us an insight into the normally unseen inside of a chough’s nest. Red-billed Choughs are well known as being an intelligent member of the crow family, and the vocalisations and behaviours continued to delight viewers.

Some of the behaviour was baffling – a male bird removing chicks as soon as they hatched, or another removing eggs. Other behaviour was quite touching. The clip below shows a female laying an egg, while the male waits patiently at the edge of the nest.

Chough laying an egg in nest box as male waits nearby

Three of the pairs started building nests immediately, and nests were quickly filling up with eggs. At this point, the weather suddenly changed back to winter mode, and the remaining pairs seemed to stall. At the end of March we had the interesting situation of eggs in nests, other nests being built, and some not even started!

The total number of eggs laid this year was forty one – a number we could only have imagined a few years ago. One pair did lay two clutches, which is highly unusual. (However, the male had already thrown out the first four eggs.) This pair eventually laid seven eggs, and produced just one chick.

As the birds had staggered their laying times, we had the benefit of being able to concentrate on any supplementary feeding, chick weighing, health monitoring and nest manipulation.

Chough chicks ready to be weighed while Alison distracts adult birds - Pic R Hales
Chough chicks ready to be weighed while Alison distracts adult birds – Pic R Hales

In mid May Liz Corry & Laura Gardner from the Wildwood Trust came down to take four chicks for the upcoming release in Kent. The four birds were about a week old, and were taken to be creche reared with other chicks, as a large family group. This meant the chicks, while steady around people, would be much less likely to become imprinted on their adopted human parents. It would also make the chicks suitable for very early training for the release later this year.

Four week-old chicks ready to move to Kent - Pic R Hales
Four week-old chicks ready to move to Kent – Pic R Hales

The final figures – forty one eggs, twenty two hatched, and twelve fledged. The number of eggs laid has been slightly skewed by the pair which laid seven eggs to produce one chick. Almost all of the eggs when checked were fertile, which is a good indication of the health of our flock – now approaching some fifty birds.

Chough chick learning that food is not always availble from mum & dad - Pic Ali Hales
Chough chick learning that food is not always availble from mum & dad – Pic Ali Hales

Our best year ever – until next year!

April Update

The chough breeding season is now in full swing, with all of our paired birds building nests, and most laying clutches of eggs.

Twenty eggs!
Twenty choughs eggs!

Three pairs laid eggs very early, and we now have chicks in two of these nests. Sadly, the two chicks in the third nest were ejected by the male. He has been paired before (last year), and his partner produced eggs, but they did not hatch. It would seem he understands the process up to the point of hatching, but has yet to get to grips with chick feeding. The male was removed, but the remaining eggs did not hatch.

Another nest laid four eggs and then the female dutifully removed them almost immediately after! We thought that their season was over, but the female has now started a second clutch. This is quite a rare occurrence in choughs, and time will tell if these eggs are fertile.

Chough egg being removed from nest
Chough egg being removed from nest

Two nests now have two chicks each – nest 302 in the new seclusion aviaries, and nest 29S which is in the main park. The chicks in 302 hatched on the 23rd & 24th of April, and both are progressing well. Chough chicks weigh 10-12 grams when they hatch, and we will be weighing them regularly as part of our monitoring.

Two chough chicks aged 1 & 2 days
Two chough chicks aged 1 & 2 days

The nest 29S is the aviary in which we first bred choughs way back in 1979. It does not have the service hatch which we have added to our seclusion aviaries, but we have been able to install a camera, which unfortunately has stopped working! This means we are relying on nest observations from keeping staff listening for feeding calls and looking for egg shells. Happily, we have confirmed two chicks, as Curator David Woolcock’s phone picture shows. These two are between 8 – 10 days old.

Two chough chicks approximately 8 - 10 days old. Picture D Woolcock
Two chough chicks approximately 8 – 10 days old. Picture D Woolcock

These two chicks are very well developed, with the tiniest of wing feathers just starting to appear. The two remaining eggs are unlikely to hatch.

As the end of April approaches we now have four chicks, with a further twenty-one eggs being incubated in the other nests…

and we have a nest in one of the polytunnel aviaries which has an egg (with more to come).

First Eggs of 2023

All of our nine pairs of breeding choughs are now building nests. Some are more advanced than others, and we have one pair which delighted us with an early egg (or two).

These two clips show some of the remarkable behaviour of choughs in their domestic environment. We have seen similar behaviour in the past, and it gives an insight into a small world possibly never seen in the wild.

In the first clip, the male arrives as he knows the female is about to lay her second egg. She laid a first egg two days before, but his actions are likely to be motivated by her behaviour rather than timing.

Male chough in the “waiting room”

The egg is laid. The female inspects the new egg, and hops out of the nest to feed. Shortly afterwards, the male goes in to the nest box and casts an eye over the two eggs.

Female lays, and male inpsects later

Later the same day, we decided to adjust the angle of the camera to give a better view. We can do this using a hatch at the back of the nest box. This gave an opportunity to take this picture of the inside of the chough’s nest. Ali is in the background, distracting the birds, which are sitting on top of the nest box, leaving a few treats for later.

Two chough eggs in a nest at Paradise Park Hayle.
Two chough eggs. Picture R Hales

Over the next week, it is hoped this pair will lay more eggs. The normal clutch size for choughs is five. We have two eggs in another nest, with many more on the way.

We have a live stream of one of our nine nests can be seen here.

Choughs inspecting their new nest box

Nest Cams 2023 Go Live

This year we have nine pairs of choughs set up in breeding aviaries at Paradise Park. Five pairs are in the new purpose-built set of seclusion aviaries, three are in the original seclusions, and one pair is in a public display aviary.

We still have twenty-four other choughs in the two large polytunnel flight aviaries – and it may be that birds in these aviaries will also make breeding attempts.

Choughs inspecting their new nest box
Choughs inspecting their new nest box

The birds make some remarkable sounds while they are checking the inside of their boxes for possible flaws and parasites. Once both birds are content with the suitability of the box, nest building will begin in earnest.

We bring in bags and bags of twigs, which have to be disinfected with a fogging machine due to the possible risk of avian influenza. This process will be repeated with the mosses and lichens at a later stage.

The chicks produced this year will become part of the project to re-establish the Red-billed Chough in Kent and Southern England.

The cameras can be seen here.

35 years of Operation Chough at Paradise Park!

To celebrate the 35th birthday we thought we would take a look back in time…

Red-billed Chough at Paradise Park
Red-billed Chough at Paradise Park

In 1987 Operation Chough was officially launched. Much work with Red-billed Choughs had been done at Paradise Park and the Tropical Bird Gardens, Padstow (now closed), before this time. Paradise Park’s founder, Mike Reynolds, became very interested in choughs and the first birds came to the Park in 1973. They were captive bred and originally from Welsh stock. This date was very sadly also the time when the last wild birds from the original Cornish population disappeared after decades of decline.

Much of the early work at Paradise Park involved developing breeding methods and improving aviary and nest box designs. Although we preferred to have parent-reared chicks, this also involved hand-rearing some, which proved to be extremely difficult, but some successes were achieved.

Chough chick getting a health check
Chough chick getting a health check

Nest boxes were fitted with inspection hatches and cameras to monitor eggs and chicks – this proved to be invaluable.

Parent Chough feeding chicks on nest camera
Parent Chough feeding chicks on nest camera
Chough chick being fed and weighed by Ray Hales
Chough chick being fed and weighed by Ray Hales

We produced a ‘Red-billed chough captive management and husbandry manual’ and a version of this was published in Zoo Biology with lead author Dr Malcolm Burgess.

Back in 1987 we sponsored a five year long study by Richard Meyer on the feasibility of the re-establishment of the chough in Cornwall. As well as researching historic sites in Cornwall, he used chough populations in Wales for much of his research.

A trial release of captive-bred birds took place in 2003 on the north coast of Cornwall.

In 2010 we developed a partnership with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey, where Red-billed Choughs had been extinct for over a hundred years.

Initially two pairs bred at Paradise Park had been flown to Jersey for the breeding and release project, and by 2013 a total of eleven birds.

First Class flight to Jersey
First Class flight to Jersey

Birds bred at Paradise Park and at Jersey Zoo were released over 6 years. Within 2 years they had bred in the wild and now there are 43 birds, about half of them hatched in the wild.

Two released choughs enjoying the Jersey breeze
Two released choughs enjoying the Jersey breeze

Our focus now is on establishing new release projects in southern England. We are working with partners in Kent (choughs used to live along the white cliffs of Dover), also the Isle of Wight and Hampshire coast. In the long term these have the potential to spread along the coast, join up and re-establish the chough in parts of England where it has been missing for two hundred years.


Nest Cam 2022

The Operation Chough webcam is back!

Spring has sprung and birds everywhere are starting to carry twigs and nesting materials at the start of a new season. Our breeding choughs have now been moved into secluded aviaries, and are happily building nests.

Click here for the live stream.

This year we have six breeding pairs. Our choughs are in great demand as there are exciting new developments for chough conservation underway. This could lead to releases, along with habitat restoration projects, in the UK in the next few years.

We monitor all the nests and choose one to show, depending on the activity going on at any particular time.

Chough Release Supervisor – Kent

Job Description

Job Title: Chough Release Supervisor
Responsible to: Director of Conservation and Rewilding at Wildwood Trust
Responsible for: Responsible for care, release, and post release monitoring of red-billed chough in Kent working with Wildwood Trust, Kent Wildlife Trust and other project partners.

Closing Date: 1st March 2022
Salary: £24,000
Printable Job Description .pdf file – click here

The chough reintroduction project is an exciting partnership project that seeks to restore a thriving population of red-billed chough back to Kent through multiple releases. This project aims not only to restore the birds themselves but for these charismatic individuals to act as a flagship for wider habitat restoration and engagement in environmental issues. This reintroduction will be implemented under a Natural England Reintroduction licence (already granted) and guided by a well-developed feasibility plan. We hope that through this project we will catalyse a number of further projects to enable the recovery of the chough across southern England. This is a multi-faceted project which in addition to the restoration of a lost species touches upon a wide range of issues including soil health, land management, cultural identity and ecotourism to name but a few.

1. Principal Duties

The red-billed chough reintroduction project to Kent is a collaboration led jointly by Wildwood Trust and Kent Wildlife Trust. This role will be hosted and managed by The Wildwood Trust.

Oversee pre-release selection and daily care of chough sourced from the breeding programme, at the release aviary in the Dover area of Kent:

• Report directly to the Director of Conservation at Wildwood Trust

• Work alongside project partners at Paradise Park, Jersey and Wildwood to assess and select birds for release in Kent

• Work with animal training officer at Wildwood to develop and deliver ongoing bird training and recall for post-release supplemental feeding and management.

• Work with Wildwood Trust Senior Keepers to deliver daily care for birds in the release aviary, and with hand rearing as required within the release aviary.

• Work with Senior Keepers and authorised personnel to capture, handle, fit leg rings, electronic tracking devices and harnesses, and collect samples for health and disease monitoring as directed.

• Implement and maintain health and disease management practices at the release aviary.

• Collect daily records of behaviour, health and condition of birds and coordinate with Senior Keepers to evaluate management action where needed.

Implement and coordinate Post Release Monitoring and management:

• Implement and oversee red-billed chough releases in Kent working mostly in the field.
• Monitor birds post release using technologies including GPS tags and VHF transmitters in addition to visual monitoring of birds using individual leg ring identifiers
• Liaise closely with bird training officer at Wildwood to deliver consistent recall and supplemental feeding of chough within the release aviary and other sites as and when needed.
• Track daily movements of chough post-release using GPS/VHF tracking devices to evaluate post-release survival and dispersal. Collect field observations of bird behaviour, foraging, use of supplemental food, health and condition, dispersal, roost sites, and interactions. Collect basic field data of habitat types. Record, manage, and analyse data including GIS analysis of post-release movements. Desk space will be available at Wildwood although the majority of time will be spent based at and around the release area.
• Coordinate with Senior Keepers on health and condition of released birds and evaluate management action where needed.
• Provide regular reports on post-release monitoring.
• Coordinate with Wildwood Rangers to ensure appropriate maintenance and functioning of the release aviary.
• Coordinate site selection and installation of roost and nest boxes in the field as required
• Adhere to safe and lone working practices in the field as required.

Support project development

• Work closely with communications teams at WW and KWT to assist with filming requests and media interest related to the above project
• Liaise directly with communications team, fundraising and appeals managers to facilitate effective project communication
• Provide project information and updates for communication, interpretation, people engagement and education teams in collaboration with project managers at WW and KWT
• Attend the Chough Working Group meetings and regular project planning and implementation meetings with external partners as directed by Director of Conservation at Wildwood
• Work closely with chough coordinator at Jersey Zoo to review and expand existing protocols
• Promote Wildwood and the project partnership and licensing bodies in a professional and efficient way
• Provide presentations as and when required for project awareness and reporting for funders and stakeholders
• Work closely with public engagement and education teams at WW and KWT to facilitate community engagement

Work with land owners and the public:

• Coordinate and cultivate a positive relationship with the landowner of the release site. Adhere to agreed on-site access and working practices.
• Liaise with KWT and other project stakeholders to develop relationships with landowners and land managers to enable access for post release monitoring.
• Under the direction of Director of Conservation at Wildwood liaise with KWT Farmer Cluster Officer to build trust and effective relationships with White Cliffs Countryside Partnership and other land managers to promote chough friendly land management practices and conservation grazing.

Support chough research:

• Under the direction of Director of Conservation at Wildwood liaise with KWT and academic partners and students to assist in the development of pre and post release research and behavioural studies to inform the Kent and future reintroduction projects and to improve our understanding of chough ecology. This research programme will include but not be limited to: chough personality assessments; dispersal, movement ecology, foraging behaviour and success; breeding site selection and success.
• Promote collaboration with other researchers and practitioners working with chough and chough habitat to improve on chough management techniques in Kent and expand existing chough research
• Prepare research summaries for reports to Trustees, funders and licensing authorities as required

Supervisory responsibilities:

• Supervise and manage a P/T Kent Chough Release Technician
• Coordinate with WW and KWT’s volunteer programme to recruit volunteers to assist with post release monitoring of chough.
• Supervise volunteers in the field and coordinate volunteer data collection and management for reports and research purposes
• Oversee research students in the field

2. Skills, Knowledge & Experience

This post will ideally suit someone wishing to develop their career as a species reintroduction and translocation professional. We are looking for a practical team-player with a ‘can do’ attitude and a passion for the restoration of British wildlife.

• Educated to degree level in a relevant subject or minimum 3 years’ experience in the conservation sector.
• A sound understanding of ecology and conservation and an empathetic view of animal management
• Skilled at maintaining and developing relationships with project partners and with land owners and land managers.
• Experience in dealing with members of the public in both a proactive and responsive situation.
• Excellent communication and organisation skills.
• Confident and dynamic, flexible, able to carry out tasks independently, able to work effectively in a team context, competent in safely working alone in the field.
• Excellent written English and report writing skills.
• Have experience with remote monitoring technologies such as VHF or GPS trackers.
• Ability and experience of systematic collection, recording, management, and reporting of field data, and conducting simple data analyses.
• Be confident in bird capture, handling, and an understanding of bird ringing.
• Have a full, clean driving licence

• Experienced in species reintroduction and post release monitoring (particularly with a speciality in birds)
• Experience in project management in a land management or conservation role
• Experience working as a conservation professional within the private sector, governmental or non-governmental organisation.
• Hold a current BTO ringing license
• Familiarity with GIS software.
• A demonstrable passion for and ecological knowledge of British wildlife and its conservation.
• Be competent in vermin exclusion and control methods if required
• Supervision and management of staff, volunteers, or students.

3. Other Considerations

  1. The post is advertised as full-time post on a rolling annual contract. It should be noted that there will be periods of high demand following the releases which may require weekend and evening working.
  2. Understanding of Wildwood’s role as a conservation body would be helpful.
  3. No person shall be treated less favourably than another on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, marital status, race, ethic or national origin, religion, colour, age or disability. As an equal opportunities employer, applicants for staff vacancies shall be short listed for interview and appointed purely on the grounds of their suitability for the post as laid out in the advertised job description.
  4. Wildwood operates a no smoking policy in the park and in its offices.
  5. The post holder will undertake additional project work as and when directed by Director of Conservation and Rewilding

4. Employment Package

  1. The salary for the Chough Release Supervisor is £24,000.00
  2. Normal working hours are a 40 hours per week. Due to the nature of the work you will be required to work bank holidays and some weekends. Overtime is not paid, but time may be taken off in lieu. The holiday allowance is 30 days a year pro rata, this includes statutory holidays.
  3. Wildwood offers access to a stake holder pension, details of which will be supplied on confirmation in post.

5. Procedure for Applicants


Application is by C.V. and must contain the following information:
• Name, address, contact phone numbers
• Personal Statement
• Employment history
• Educational history
You should include a statement of the relevant skills and experience that you believe you will bring to the job, paying careful attention to the requirements of the job outlined above.
You should give two referees to whom we can turn for a confidential reference, one of whom should be your current or most recent employer. References will only be taken up for those candidates chosen for interview or, with regard to current employer, on offer of contract.
Applications will not normally be acknowledged.
Applications should be sent to Laura Gardner, Director of Conservation, Wildwood Trust, Herne Common
Herne Bay, Kent, CT6 7LQ.

Interview & Selection Procedure

Interviews and selection assessments will be held at Wildwood offices at Wealden Forest Park, Herne Common by arrangement.

All go for 2021

2021 Nest Cameras Go Live!

The Operation Chough webcam is back! All the nestboxes have been fully refurbished and pairs of birds in their individual aviaries on 23rd March, back from their winter flocking enclosures.

We are breeding Red-billed Choughs as part of our long-term project to conserve and expand the species, which has been pushed to the fringes of its former distribution.

This year we have nine breeding pairs – four more than usual. Our choughs are in great demand as there are exciting new developments for chough conservation underway. This could lead to releases, along with habitat restoration projects, in the UK in the next few years.

We monitor all the nests and choose one to show, depending the activity going on at any particular time.

Click here to view webcam