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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Possibly, not one of our best years for chough breeding at Paradise Park. However, the lack of choughs bred in captivity here has been eclipsed by the success of the new population on Jersey, and the wild birds in Cornwall.
Paradise Park Here at Paradise Park, although we had plenty of eggs, four of our five pairs did not produce chicks. The honours were once again taken by nest number one, which produced three chicks – all of which are males. These have now been moved out into the large 30 metre flight \ socialisation aviary, where the youngsters are getting used to life in a flock. The young birds are now very similar in size and colour to the adults, the main difference being the paler bill and legs. (There is, of course, a difference in behaviour – they tend to follow their parents, begging for food. The parents do their best to ignore them).
Jersey The news from Jersey is very encouraging, with the population steadily increasing. This year there were 13 pairs building nests. Most of the nests were close to the release site at Sorel, or in the quarry nearby.
However, one pair did raise a chick away from the release site, and with no interaction at all with any feeding stations. This chick could be regarded as the first truly “wild” chough chick produced so far, with no support from the release program. The parent birds have managed to find feeding sites of their own.
The 13 nests produced 13 chicks in total, with most nests reaching egg or chick stage. More news can be found on the Birds on the Edge website.
There were also two parent-reared choughs produced at Jersey Zoo (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust), adding to the potential of the captive breeding program.
Cornwall The ongoing resurgence of the chough in Cornwall continues. This year there were 12 successful breeding nests, which produced 38 fledged choughs in total.
The resident birds are now spreading around the coast, and can now be seen from The Lizard all the way round the coast as far as Newquay. The location of the nests is still subject to a degree of secrecy. Large groups of choughs can now be spotted regularly in West Cornwall. The current population is now close to 100 birds.
This is excellent news for all involved in the monitoring and conservation work. More news can be found at the Cornish Choughs Twitter feed.
At the end of April, four of the five chough nests had eggs. Nest 4 was a ramshackle affair, but a good attempt for a new pair. Of the other four nests, only one pair laid fertile eggs – our “go to” pair in nest 1. The totals are as follows:
Nest 1 – three eggs, all fertile. Three chicks hatched Nest 2 – two eggs, laid in partially finished nest. Both eggs broken. Nest 3 – four eggs, all infertile. Female incubated but eggs thrown out by parent. Nest 4 – no eggs. Nest 5 – Three eggs, all infertile. Female incubated, then removed eggs.
Our hopes for this year are all on nest 1, and the three chicks are now two weeks old. However, the nest is already starting to fall apart – something which normally happens after four weeks, due to the movements of the “teenage” chicks inside.
The nest box now contains more rocks than before. This is due to some quick rebuilding by myself, as the young birds were seen to be scrabbling about on the floor of the box. This is not good for younger birds, as their feet may not develop properly.
We decided to intervene, and made the nest space smaller by adding four small rocks to the front of the box. This was done during one of the daily weighing sessions – where Alison goes into the aviary to feed and distract the birds, while I sneak the chicks out of the inspection hatch. The parent birds then return, and continue to feed the youngsters. I think the female was slighty suspicious after the rocks had been installed, but the drive to feed overcame any fears.
We also added small twigs in a lattice pattern, to allow the chicks to grip onto something. This is easier to do, and the parent birds accept this much more readily.
We have repeated this, with rocks being added to the sides. So far, so good…
The chicks are weighed daily, and the weights can be compared with results we have built up over the years. During the first week a daily percentage increase of 20% to 30% is not uncommon, which gives an indication of the remarkable rate of growth.
In the second week, the rate slows to between 10% and 15% per day. As can be seen in the image above, the chicks now have their eyes open, and are beginning to “feather up”.
The two chicks hatched a day before number three, will always be at an advantage. They will always be heavier, and their eyes opened first – a huge advantage at feeding times.
As an example, the weights today (May 22nd) are: 179g, 146g and 123g. Our strategy to overcome this, is to give the smaller birds supplementary feeds when being weighed. This gives them every chance to catch up with the heavier bird.
The third week now moves into monitoring for potential infections and gapeworms…
The first chough eggs of the year have been laid. After a staggered start all five pairs have built nests. The new pair (nest four), were slow to start, but have now caught up.
The first eggs were laid in nest number three on April 13th and 15th, followed by more on the 17th and 18th. Nest number one was filled with three eggs on April 15th, 17th and 19th. Nest number five was last with three on 21st, 23rd and 27th. Unfortunately, two eggs were laid in nest number two, but were broken – the nest had not been completed, and the eggs broke against the nestbox floor.
We were approaching the point where we would “candle” the eggs to see how many were fertile. Unfortunately, the female in nest number three had other ideas…
Yesterday Morning – April 30th – we came in to find only two eggs in nest number three! The female had gently removed two of the eggs early in the morning. At 11 o’clock she removed another, and we went into the aviary to investigate.
We found the two eggs. Both were infertile. Both were also very pungent. Obviously, the female had realised the eggs were not going to hatch, and took them out. She removed the final egg overnight, and this too was infertile.
So, our current tally is six eggs. We are still hoping that the birds in nests four and two will lay. The birds in nest number two may go through another cycle, as can be the case when the initial cycle of egg laying is not quite right.
The 2018 breeding season has now officially ended, as all the chough chicks have left their respective nests.
Empty chough nests -nothing to see here
As the eggs were laid at different dates, it would seem obvious that the chicks would fledge at different dates. There are other factors, such as parental care, numbers of siblings, and (in the wild), availability of food.
We know from previous records and observations, that the parents in nest number one are very capable – and have in fact “fostered” chicks when their own eggs have failed. The chicks from nest number one were indeed the first out. The first chick accidentally bumped out by an adult on June 18th. The other two siblings followed on June 21st and 23rd respectively.
The singleton in nest number four was out next on June 24th. In theory, this bird should have been the first to fledge, as it was getting all the attention from both parents. However, we had noticed that the female in nest four tended to overbrood, or sit on the chick – which meant the male could not feed the youngster.
Finally, the chicks in nest number two emerged on 26th, 27th, and 28th of June, and July 1st. Sadly, one of the chicks was found dead in the aviary on 28th of June. However, the other three siblings are now practising short flights, and teaching themselves how to hunt for prey.
So our total “choughage” for 2018 is seven new birds, which is more we expected given the terrible weather at the start of the season, and the fact that there has been a mealworm shortage for the last six weeks.
All the chicks follow their parents, still begging for food. However, they are not getting too much attention from them. They do go back to the nest boxes from time to time for short naps, and also to roost. (The chicks, not the adults).
I did watch a chick in nest number two play with a feather in the nest. It poked and prodded it, then proceeded to start adjusting some of the twigs. A hopeful sign for the future..?
“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.
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!