Category Archives: Cornwall

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.

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.

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

Fostering and Feuding


Our five nests produced fifteen eggs. Eight of these have hatched and all eight chicks are doing well – after a couple of hiccups…

On May 10th, we noticed the third chick in nest five was very small (16 grams), and in danger of being pushed to the bottom of the nest by its siblings. There were four overdue (infertile) eggs in nest three, so we decided to foster the small chick to this nest. The female in nest three was still patiently sitting, and she was expecting to see eggs hatching. We gave her what she wanted.

Chick from nest five being put into nest three along with egg shell
Chick from nest five being put into nest three along with egg shell

We put the chick in the box using the hatch at the back – Ali was in the aviary putting in live food and distracting the adults. The parent birds both went on top of the nest box, as they have been conditioned to do.

As well as the chick, we added a piece of egg shell. This mimics real-life events, and the normal reaction of the female should be to come in and take the egg shell away. If she did this, we would know that she would accept the young chick as her own.

Female removing eggshell - Success!
Female removing eggshell – Success!

As soon as Ali had left the aviary, the female returned to the nest and very gently removed the shell. Moments later, the male hopped into the nest to inspect the new arrival and left. The female then came back in and started to brood the chick. Success!

The chick is now over two weeks old, and is progressing well – getting food from both parents, and gaining weight.


Events were not as joyful in nest two. On the evening of May 15th the male parent became very agitated and started to attack the female – and the three young chicks. Luckily, we had spotted this while monitoring at home, and decided something had to be done.

Male attacking female and chicks in nest two

It was getting dark, and soon we would not be able to get into the aviary without disturbing all the other nesting pairs nearby. However, staff were on hand (staying on site due to the lockdown), and got in quickly to catch the male. He spent the night in solitary confinement, and was relased the next day into the large polytunnel group.

On checking our records we found this male had done exactly the same thing in 2015 – on the exact same date – very bizarre!

We believe male choughs at this time of year are “pumped up” and ready to spend sixteen or more hours a day searching for food in the wild. This is something we try to replicate in the aviaries by hiding food, giving the males some distraction.

Nest Totals

Nest 1 has two chicks. One egg did not hatch

Nest 2 has three chicks. One egg did not hatch. Mister chough has left home.

Nest 3 has one adopted chick from Nest 5. Four eggs were infertile.

Nest 4 has no eggs.

Nest 5 has two chicks (plus the third which is in Nest 3). One egg did not hatch.

Total to date is eight chicks, most being two weeks old.

Fifteen Eggs

Fifteen Eggs – So Far

Our first chough egg was laid on April 9th. Since then four nests have been filled up with clutches of various sizes. Choughs will lay up to five eggs in a clutch, with sizes diminishing with age of the adult female.

Fifteen Eggs
Four chough nests with eggs

Nest 1 started on April 12th, and now has three eggs.

Nest 2 has four eggs, laid between April 15th and 21st.

Nest 3 has four eggs, laid between April 9th and 15th.

Nest 4 is still being constructed – there may not be eggs forthcoming.

Nest 5 has has four eggs laid between April 13th and 18th.

We know that our captive choughs (and probably choughs in the wild) start incubating full-time when the third egg is laid. This delays the development of the first two eggs, so as many chicks as possible can hatch together. This means they are of similar size, and have more equal chances of survival.

Using the 18 – 19 days of incubation estimate, our first chicks should be hatching on May 3rd or 4th.

First chough egg of 2020

Easter Eggs!

Yes the Red-billed Chough breeding season is off with Mrs No.1, the female currently featuring on our webcam, laying her first egg at 11am on Easter Sunday. They are a very reliable pair, producing chicks for many years, and are grandparents to ‘Dusty’ the first chough chick to be bred in the wild on Jersey after the re-introduction.

First chough egg of the 2020 breeding season

There are four other pairs, of varying ages and reliability, with nests right now so we will bring you news of these soon.

What strange times these are – Paradise Park is closed to visitors for the first time in 46 years. The Keepers are being brilliant in making sure that all the animals are as well looked after as ever, and with this warm weather the breeding season for many species is underway. We have started our first ever fund-raiser so if you can donate a small amount to keep us going through the covid-19 crisis it would be most welcome.

We have lots of stories about things going on here via Facebook. As well as the chough webcam, we have one that keeps on eye on the daily life of our Humboldt’s Penguins and have just added one on our flamingo group as they should soon be building their mud nests.

Keep safe and keep positive!

Ray & Ali Hales