The Cornish Chough

There’s nothing more fun than a good walk along the Cornish coast especially when you can tie it in with a bit of bird watching. Which is why this year, for the Big Garden Bird Watch we’ll be strapping on our walking boots and heading to West Penwith in the hopes of spotting a very special feathered friend: the Cornish Chough!

Cornish Chough by Seasalt artist Matt Johnson

Cornish Chough by Seasalt artist Matt Johnson

The chough (pronounced ‘chuff’) is a member of the crow family, sharing the same inky black plumage. However, unlike other crows the cheeky chough has a distinctive and easily identified bright red bill, legs and feet, and a loud, ringing call. It’s this distinct call that gives the chough its name. However, the bird’s Cornish name, Palores, means Digger. A reference no doubt to its habit of digging away at loose soil to find invertebrates.

As the national bird of Cornwall it features on our coat of arms, sitting on top of the crest, flanked by a tin miner and fisherman. One Cornish legend states that King Arthur did not die but was transformed into a red-billed chough, its red feet and bill signifying Arthur’s violent end.

Sadly the increase of trophy hunters and degradation of the chough’s preferred habitat towards the end of the 18th century meant a steady decline in numbers.

Cornish Chough by Seasalt Artist Matt Johnson

Cornish Chough by Seasalt Artist Matt Johnson

History of the Cornish Chough

The year 1947 saw the last successful nesting attempt in Cornwall. An ageing pair of choughs nested near Newquay between 1960–1967; unfortunately one of the pair was found dead in March 1967 and its partner flew alone until 1973 when it too was seen no more.

For the next 28 years, there were no sightings of the chough in Cornwall until early in the spring of 2001 when a group of three wild choughs took up residence on the Lizard. In 2002, two of the birds raised young, the first in Cornwall in more than 50 years. In 2008 another pair successfully raised young in West Penwith for the first time in 150 years. Much to the locals delight!

In the autumn and winter months, flocks can be found performing fantastic acrobatic diving and swooping displays. Favourite chough nesting sites include sea caves, cliff crevices, old buildings, quarries and mine shafts, where they’re safely tucked away from the worst of the Cornish weather. So if you’re taking a stroll around the Cornish coast be sure to keep an eye out for this beautiful Cornish bird.

If you are lucky enough to spot a chough or two you can report your sightings to the RSPB who are working to help protect them. Find out more about Cornwall’s favourite bird here and don’t forget to take part in the yearly Big Garden Bird Watch to ensure we keep track of our all our beautiful birds.