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The Red-billed Chough has a widespread distribution including Europe, North Africa and Asia. A small, separate population lives on the coasts of the British Isles and Brittany. This beautiful black bird with its distinctive red bill and legs and its shrill call was once common in Jersey but a loss of habitat and persecution led to its extinction throughout the Channel Islands around 1900. Elsewhere in the British Isles, protection and direct conservation has allowed the chough, sometimes called the sea crow, to recover and in recent years it has recolonised parts of South Wales and Cornwall.
The chough likes to live near the sea cliffs where it feeds on invertebrates such as cranefly larvae in short grazed grasslands at the cliff top, often associating with sheep and cattle. In Jersey the loss of this habitat first to agriculture and then, in recent years following abandonment of marginal farming, to a sea of bracken (a large, dense, native Pteridium aquiline) as led to a great loss of biodiversity and the decline and local extinction of other once familiar bird species such as skylark, stonechat, yellowhammer and cirl bunting.
Durrell has formed a partnership with States of Jersey and The National Trust for Jersey in order to restore areas of Jersey’s coastline with the aim of reversing declines and returning those birds locally extinct. The chough has been chosen as a flagship for this ambitious and long term project and it is proposed that one day this bird will once again be seen and heard on the Island’s cliffs. Durrell recently received two pairs of choughs from Paradise Park in Cornwall and will establish a flock here that it is proposed may be released back into Jersey in the future.
Photo coutesy of Andrew Kelly