Category Archives: Ray’s Ramblings

Two young choughs in a larger group of adult birds. Picture R Hales.

2019 July Breeding Report & Round-up

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).

Two young choughs in a larger group of adult birds. Picture R Hales.
Two young choughs (front left) in a larger group of adult birds. Picture R Hales.

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.

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.

May 2019 Breeding Report

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.

Three chough chicks being fed by parents
Three chough chicks being fed by parents

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…

Chough chicks daily weigh-in
Chough chicks daily weigh-in

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…

Empty chough nests

All Fledged

July 5th 2018

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

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..?

Nest one chick growing fast.

“Chickens” Hatched

May 29th 2018

“Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched”, the old saying goes. And so it was with our thirteen fertile chough eggs. Most of our eggs did hatch – sadly, some did not survive.

For reasons known only to the choughs themselves, the eggs in nests three and five were taken out by the parent birds. We checked the CCTV. Nothing unusual. No disturbance. Very odd. (Nest five had an evening feed as normal, and the female simply never got back on the eggs).

However, we now have eight chough chicks, in various family groups at various stages of growth. Nest number one has three chicks, hatched on May 10th and 12th. All are growing well, and rapidly destroying the nest as they do so.

One chick was noticed to be breathing heavily and “crackling” – a clear indication of gapeworm infection. As a precaution we pulled all three chicks from the nest and dosed them with specific amounts of Ivomectin. All are now back to full vigour.

Nest one chick growing fast.

Nest number one chick growing fast. (Get a bigger dish) Pic R Hales.

Nest number four has a single chick hatched on May 14th. Sadly the other two eggs in this nest did hatch, but the chicks died as they emerged.

Nest number two has become our favourite – producing four chicks at the first attempt. Three hatched on May 17th, and the last kept us guessing until May 19th. Our main concern was for this final chick, who was obviously going to be the last to get to any feeds.

Four lovely chough chicks in nest two.

Four lovely chough chicks in nest two.

Each day, we would take the chicks out to monitor growth, and each day we would favour chick number four with supplementary feeds. It has now caught up with it’s siblings.

The parent birds on nest number two, are proving to be very capable. Both birds attend the youngsters, and both take turns feeding and taking out the faecal sacs.

One delightful surprise, is that the female likes to have a wash and brush-up in the afternoons. We have noticed her coming in to the nest freshly washed on several occasions. This may not just be vanity, it may be that she is actually cooling the youngsters as they are all crammed in the nest together, they may possibly be getting to hot.


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.

Six choughs ready for their longest flight so far

Six More to Jersey

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

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.

Chough chick being monitored and weighed. May 2016. (Pic A Hales)

Chough chick aged 24 days being weighed.

Happy Birthday!

Today is Operation Chough’s Birthday!

Chough Flying into the Sunset. The Lizard 2002. Pic Ray Hales.

Chough flying at sunset. The Lizard 2002. Pic Ray Hales.

We have long admired the Red-billed Chough’s intelligence and beauty – how could we not be inspired to help this magnificent bird and see it flying again over coastlines where it had disappeared?

Mike Reynolds and Robin Hanbury Tenison August 4th 1987

Mike Reynolds and Robin Hanbury Tenison August 4th 1987

The official launch was back in 1987 – not a good time for chough-lovers as the species had died out in Cornwall. But things were about to change…

The natural recolonisation by three birds in 2001 gave us great opportunities to observe the behaviour of wild birds right on our doorstep.

A Breeding Pair of Wild Cornish Choughs, on the Cornish Coast 2016.

A breeding pair of wild Choughs on the Cornish coast 2016. Pic Ray Hales.

In the 1980s we had had some success in breeding choughs here at Paradise Park, but it was just one or two chicks a year, as we learned what they needed. Now we have become somewhat expert and our captive pairs produce around ten chicks each year.

Chough chick aged 24 days being weighed. Ray Hales 2014.

Chough chick aged 24 days being weighed. Ray Hales 2014.

This has enabled us to fulfil our objective on Jersey and with the help of our hard-working partners at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, thirty – yes THIRTY – choughs are now living free on the island after an absence of 100 years. The method used for the Jersey release is a template for further re-establishment to help join up the scattered populations and spread genetic diversity.

Choughs on Jersey going to Roost. Pic Liz Corry.

Choughs on Jersey going to Roost. Pic Liz Corry.

Long live the chough!

Three chough chicks just over 24 hours old

Day Old Chough Chicks

Here is the first picture of the first nest of this year’s chough chicks. (Nest three).

Three chough chicks just over 24 hours old

Three chough chicks just over 24 hours old

We have designed the nest boxes in the breeding aviaries with a small inspection hatch at the back. This allows us to monitor weights, give supplementary feeds, and occasionally medication.

While the birds are distracted by someone, usually Ali, going into the front of the aviary with food, I can use the opportunity to open the hatch to carry out my secret duties. The adult birds tend to hide in a small space on top of the nest box while this is going on.

We get the birds used to these intrusions before any eggs are hatched, by using positive reinforcement. The adult birds associate a person coming into the aviary as a good thing. Person equals food. This makes our disturbances much less stressful for all concerned, except for Ray and Ali.

A rare view of seventeen chough eggs

Seventeen Eggs

The total egg count for our breeding choughs is now up to seventeen.

A rare view of seventeen chough eggs

A rare view of seventeen chough eggs

To mark Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday, our oldest female chough, aged 18, laid our most recent egg. She is a remarkable bird and amazingly spiritedly for such an age. (The chough, not the Queen).

Nest number four continues to “faff”…

According to our calculations, the first eggs in nest three will be hatching in the next two or three days. We will then switch the webcam view to show the new arrivals.

You can see the webcam here.

Seclusion aviary nests showing eleven eggs

Eleven Eggs and Counting…

The breeding choughs at Paradise Park have now increased their total egg count to eleven.

Seclusion aviary nests showing eleven eggs

Seclusion aviary nests showing eleven eggs

Three of the nests are progressing well, with counts of four, three, and four eggs respectively. The female in nest two laid the third egg this morning, and hopefully will add one or two more. We think that the females in nests one and three have now finished, as there have been no new eggs for several days.

The birds in nests four and five are still “faffing about”. This is a technical term used by chough breeders. It means that the birds are still adding (and subtracting) to the nests. Generally, the male will bring material into the nest and a few minutes later the female will take it out again!

However, the choughs in nests four and five were later last year – and they also built “looser” nests, so we are still expecting more eggs to come.

You can see the webcam here.