Is a chough rare ?


We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).
Wildlife questions

Is a chough rare ?

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    We've just seen a chough in our garden in Haslemere.  We've not seen one before here in 16 years.  Do we assume they are rare around here ? 

  • There are also a few on the N.W. coast of England-St Bees Head but as a garden tick I would say it was very rare.

  • If you really did see one in your garden, it was seriously out of its comfort zone!!

    Just as a check, it is slightly larger than a Jackdaw with glossy black plumage with a greeny blue sheen and the most strikingly red legs and long, deeply downcurved beak. There are only about 400 breeding pairs in the UK, threequarters of which are in Wales. They tend to stay pretty close to their home territory for most of their lives - for example I saw a ringed one in January only about a couple of miles from where she hatched in 2000.

    Obviously the youngsters move out from the parent's territory and some individuals travel some distances in the first year but they are not birds you associate with a great deal of movement. As has been said they are specialist feeders of insects and grubs on rough grazed grass - they really do need the vegetation to be short but not too short and they require rocky cliffs with holes or caves for breeding though some in Spain have recently taken to nesting sites in old buildings.

    They are very vocal. the call is a little like a jackdaw's but not so sharp and a bit more "musical".

    This is not my picture but I forget whose it is!


  • As the others have said Choughs are pretty much confined to rocky coasts around the western fringes of our island. I checked the Avibase and it has never been recorded in Surrey although it has in the neighbouring counties of Sussex and Kent. Nevertheless, if that is what you saw it would be extremely rare to see one in your garden.

    I don't know how experienced you are in bird ID and I don't wish to offend you but are you absolutely sure this is what you saw.

  • Thank you for your responses.  We're certainly not experienced but have checked our bird book and can rule out just about anything else. It was more slender than a jackdaw (possibly a young one) but it's legs and beak were so distinctly red.  My husband excitedly showed me a picture in the book claiming he had just seen one in our garden.  I spent the next hour teasing him that it must have been a crow in a dodgey light.  I then popped out and when I came home it was stood in the driveway. I tried to get out the car very quietly to take a photo with my phone but I disturbed it and it, rather clumsily (making me wonder whether it was injured) took off to a nearby roof making a noise that I have heard nothing like around here before. My husband has now dished me up some humble pie and we're excitedly hoping it will still be around tomorrow to get a photo.  Though I guess chances are slim.  

  • Good luck with trying to get a photo. If you can get some convincing evidence then your sighting should be reported to the local county bird recorder. We can let you know how to do that.

  • yes definately rare you are very lucky. They were common around cornwall and i believe they are being reintroduced there. They are more of a coastal bird and nest among cliffs ususally so yours may have been lost !!

  • Sorry, but I seriously doubt it. The habitat is totally wrong for a bird (in the UK) of open costal fields and cliffs, and in Europe mountains, valleys and more rugged areas.

    Furthermore, it's a very rare bird in the UK and in my experience shy. More likely is Blackbird/ similar. They can have very dark orange, even red bills, which could be confused with a choughs.

    Unless you can get a pic showing otherwise, although it kinda seems harsh it is almost certainly not a cough.

  • If you think these birds are shy I would surgest a visit to south stack on angelsey, they almost feed out of your hand, but I also would doubt they would be in anyones garden. Alan

  • Couple of points. They were not reintroduced to Cornwall - they came back of their own accord when the RSPB had got farmers to graze the cliff tops again.

    Secondly there are a number of breeding pairs in Snowdonia quite a distance from the sea. They nest in old mines and mountain cliffs and feed on the grassy slopes where the sheep graze. They are not exclusively a coastal bird it is just that the conditions they need tend to occur more frequently in coastal areas.

    Alan, they would hardly feed "out of your hand" as I doubt if you would be prepared to sit there holding a cowpat filled with dungbeetle larvae - but there again maybe I'm wrong. LOL

    Anita, Choughs are larger than Jackdaws but not as big as Carrion Crows. Youngsters are fully grown by three months old. They hatch in late April and by this time of year you could not tell that it was a "young one" except by catching it, examining the feathers carefully and doing careful measurements of bones in the wings and legs. The only other way of telling its age is if it is a bird with coloured identity rings on its legs. There are usually two coloured rings on the right leg and a BTO metal ring and one coloured ring on the left. If this is indeed a chough you need to look carefully for these rings, Note the colours (photo them if you can) and report to your county recorder and the RSPB.


  • LOL @ Jenni

  • Never seen one but a ringer I know put the bird as one of his highlights for ringing.

    Have fed Alpine choughs by hand in Austria. But they have yellow beaks.


  • Yes Ray, Choughs can become quite unafraid but need to be tamed early in their lives and indeed the miners in the Blaenau Ffestiniog area of North Wales in the 19th. century used to take chicks from nests and hand rear them as pets. They are, as all corvids, very intelligent and playful birds. Since many of the miners used to spend the week in the hills in barracks and only go home at weekends I can imagine these birds were a real comfort.

    Our Chough Officer in Wales is really devoted to them and does some hair-raising climbs to ring them.

    I can't wait for the pair in our Date with Nature site at Llechwedd Slate Caverns to start sorting the nest out for this year. We start watching them in about three weeks time.


  • I'm just wondering whether the bird Anita saw could be an escapee from somewhere. A wild Chough in a garden in Surrey does seem an unlikely occurrence.

    I've no idea whether Choughs are kept in captivity. Are there any other caged birds that could resemble a Chough?

  • I think that is a distinct possibility TJ but what I don't know. I don't think any choughs are kept in captivity nowadays but I could be wrong. The likelyhood of it being a wild chough is remote.