The Cornish Chough


The Chough is in the county's coat of arms alongside the miner and the fisherman, reflecting the bird's importance in Cornish culture. In Cornish legend it is said that King Arthur transformed into a chough when he died with the red feet and beak representing his violent, bloody end.

Lost from Cornwall

The Chough once widespread around the coast of Britain has declined since the early nineteenth century. Only about 300 pairs left, mainly in Wales, the Isle of Man and western Scotland, although a larger population is present in Eire. A decline in feeding habitat is thought to be the main reason for the loss of the chough from England. Many well-grazed pastures once common along the coast have been ploughed for arable crops or overgrown with scrub.
 

Cornwall was once a stronghold for Choughs. They last nested in the county in 1952, long after they had been lost from the rest of England. As the chough declined, it became an increasingly prized target for egg collectors and trophy hunters. This may have finally sealed the bird's fate in Cornwall.

The return of the Cornish Chough

Conservation organisations have been working for many years to secure more and quality habitat. The Chough prefers short well-grazed coastal pastures. It eats ground-dwelling invertebrates such as ants, beetle larvae and spiders. Its untidy nest is built largely of sticks and usually concealed within a crack in the cliff-face or deep inside a cave.
 
In 2001 four wild choughs were seen in west Cornwall and three took up residence. This led to hopes that they might stay to breed. In early spring of 2002 and to everyone's delight two of the birds began nesting. By mid-April they had built a nest tucked away out of sight within a sea cave. The female had begun to incubate a clutch of eggs - the first Coughs to breed in Cornwall (and England) for 50 years.
 

Volunteers provided round-the-clock surveillance to stop illegal egg collectors. Thus increasing the chances of a return of the Chough to Cornwall.

The Cornwall Chough Project

The Cornwall Chough Project established by:
  • English Nature,
  • the RSPB,
  • the National Trust, and
  • the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Built on the existing work, it aimed to promote the return of the chough to Cornwall through:

  • Encouraging the restoration of suitable feeding habitats for choughs by working with landowners. Reinstating traditional forms of livestock grazing on coastal pastures.
  • Monitoring and protecting the birds that are already present in Cornwall. Identifying their preferred feeding areas so that they can be improved.
  • Promoting the return of the chough to Cornwall. Raising awareness of how managed coastal habitats benefit our native wildlife.

Cattle grazing the Cornish cliffs provide the ideal habitat for the chough.  It is hoped that providing more habitat for choughs to feed and breed on, such as that managed under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, that this emblematic of Cornish birds will make a full natural recovery.

Cornish Chough Success

With nearly 100 birds in Cornwall by the summer 2019 the chough is going from strength to strength. Grazing along the coast is providing a suitable habitat under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

Chough Sightings

Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society maintain the Chough sightings database for Cornwall. Adding to the many thousands of records received from birders and members of the public since 2001.

Please send your sightings to: choughs@cbwps.org.uk.  Please include the date, place, 6 figure grid reference (if possible), and notes of any colour rings observed.

Need help?

Most issues can be resolved online, it's the quickest and most convenient way to get help.

Your feedback is important to us

Help us improve our service