Category
A
Status
Vagrant
Breeding status
First Record
Last Recorded
1990

Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax


 

In the west of Europe, Chough are restricted to a few coastal breeding areas in Ireland, the UK and Brittany. Its main breeding range extends from Spain across southern Europe to central Asia. It formerly bred but last successful attempt was in 1906.

Smith wrote in 1879 'The Chough is a common resident in Guernsey, breeding amongst the high rocks on the south and east part of the Island, and in the autumn and winter spreading over the cultivated parts of the island, sometimes in considerable flocks like Rooks.' He goes on to say they were wary birds and nested on the cliffs so it was difficult to shoot them. Coupled with this and that 'they are not good eating, no Guernsey man thinks of expending powder and shot on them' they did not seem to be persecuted.

The numbers of Chough in Guernsey fell dramatically from Smith's account in 1879 and it is not until 1902 that the next record of a bird at Moulin Huet was reported. In 1908, a search by E.D. Marquand was unsuccessful and it appears to have become extinct by this date. The reason for the dramatic decline from an apparently healthy unpersecuted population to extinction approximately 15-20 years later is unknown.

At the time, Choughs were viewed with a great deal of superstition and there is a great deal of folk-lore associated with this bird. This red-legged bird was associated with witches as witches were meant to wear red stockings as a means of identification and people who wore red stockings were referred to as 'gens du Catioroc', i.e. one who belongs to the Catioroc coven of black witches. A famous witch, Marie Pipet, was said to be able to turn herself into a chough. Georges Métvier wrote about this superstition in the Dictionnaire Anglo-Normand and a translation appeared in the Guernsey magazine in April 1883 (de Garis - Folklore): '... a certain Sieur Job, the venerable owner of the property found some Marie or Judith in his cow house in the shape of one of these birds, which he wounded in the leg with a pitchfork. Soon after the good woman sent for the doctor, who was called upon to tend exactly the same wound which had been inflicted on the bird, and so ill was she that for 6 months she was confined to her bed.' This superstition may have hastened its demise.

Choughs were also present in Sark, Herm and Alderney. Smith gives 1876 as the date after which he did not see any birds on Alderney and speculated that Jackdaws, which were increasing at the time, may have been driving the birds out. In Sark, Smith says that 'a few' occurred on the island and that they were not as numerous as in Guernsey. Choughs were resident in Sark until 1906 and this pair successfully fledged young despite having had their first clutch taken by a certain H. Drury-Shaw who reported them! It seems as though in the late 19th century there were less than 6 pairs on the island. Smith blames Jackdaws for the decline in Chough numbers in both Sark and Alderney. He writes, 'In Sark the Choughs have by no means so easy a time, as the Jackdaws outnumber them about the cliffs, and will probably eventually drive them out the island. '

After the extinction of the larger breeding population there have been three more records in Guernsey: one at Calais, St Martin on 18 August 1916, a bird near La Moye Point on 22 May 1919 and a report of a pair of Choughs at Torteval for several weeks in the summer of 1929 (Dobson). These birds were believed to have bred although there are no further details. This is the last Channel Island breeding record.

A long gap ensued and Choughs are now an extremely rare vagrant to the islands. Since the extinction of the breeding populations in Sark and Guernsey there have been two records from Alderney and two from Guernsey. Single birds were recorded in Alderney on June 1975 and May 1976 (Condor), one in Herm on 9 May 1980 and 2 birds were seen at Bulwer Avenue, Guernsey, on 3-4 Aug 1990 (1993 Transactions).





View database records (1)
Chough Albecq 31/10/2003 1