South West revisited – Choughs on the Lizard Peninsula

Whilst in the South West I made sure to take a day out to visit the Lizard Peninsula, the most southerly point of the British mainland. A combination of the mild maritime climate and complex and unique geology has produced an area with a distinctive character, well known for its rare and unusual flora.

It is also home to one of Britain’s rarest breeding birds – the Chough. The chough is a member of the crow family that I have hoped to catch a glimpse of ever since my first visit here in 2010 whilst walking the South West Coast Path.

After an initial fruitless walk around the coastal path showed no signs, a second lap paid dividends and not only a single bird, but a whole family of choughs flew in to land in a nearby field – two adults and three young (together with two Jackdaws).

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The red bill and legs of the chough make them very distinctive as well as their mastery of aerobatics – they like to wheel and soar along the cliffs on broad, rounded wings, the tips spread out like fingers.  Their name is pronounced ‘chuff’ (not ‘cough’, which is how I originally, rather embarrassingly, thought it was pronounced). Anyway, the name is thought to be an imitation of its ‘keeaar’ or ‘chee-aw’ call.

The chough began breeding here in 2002 after a long absence and a concerted effort by local conservationists.

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The chough’s down-curved bill is ideally suited for its diet of worms, caterpillars, and other insects such as beetles, particularly dung beetles.

Whilst taking a video of the chough family I noticed the adults were actually showing the younger birds how to feed, though sometimes not very successfully – eventually summoning to the loud bleets for food from the young and dropping a worm down their neck to keep them quiet.

Eventually the family left, flying off into the distance. Walking around the field after they had left I noticed a number of holes in the numerous dung piles. A common sign of chough feeding. Yummy!

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