Many of you who follow the choughs will have heard of ‘George’, otherwise known, by local children, as ‘Champion chough’. He was the bird that usurped the original male at Lizard Point, stole his mate and, after losing her a fortnight later, was left to foster the original pair’s last brood. After a dramatic start to 2013, George proved himself a champion by raising these two chicks entirely on his own against all the odds!
George and one of his 2014 chicks (Photographer: Terry Thirlaway. Copyright National Trust)
‘Champion chough’ nested near Lizard Point with a new mate (Nora) ever since; successfully raising 8 chicks. The pair started nesting again in early March this year, so we geared ourselves up for another season of nest watch, but to our horror ‘George’ vanished; leaving his mate the only chough on The Lizard and taking with him any hope of a brood of Lizard chicks this year....
...Or so we thought!
As the pairs in west Penwith began to establish their territories it pushed some of the younger birds back down towards The Lizard. Chough watch volunteers eagerly awaited the appearance of these young male birds, in the hope that Nora (George’s recent widow) would find one of them a suitable catch!
After a week or two of random sightings of choughs heading our way, Nora found herself a new friend but to our surprise it wasn’t one of the birds we had been waiting for! Even better, it was an unringed chough that the RSPB suspect might have flown in from outside of Cornwall!
Nora and the new bird (photographer: Anonymous)
When a chough is unringed, it is very hard to be sure of its sex, its age and where it came from. After several weeks of watching we are confident that the new bird is male, and thankfully the pair seem to be doing all the right things. Despite things moving in the right direction, it’s not certain whether the new pair will have chicks as it can take between 2-4yrs for a chough to mature, and the new bird could be a young one. Whether or not they have chicks this year, we are delighted that a pair is establishing on The Lizard as it keeps us in good company and bodes well for the future. The presence of the new pair has encouraged one or two of the roaming males to settle nearby, so we have at least 3 and possibly 4 choughs on The Lizard at the moment.
There are about 30 choughs in Cornwall today, and within that population there are 12 pairs; out of which only a handful will produce chicks as many are new, young pairs. For more information on choughs in Cornwall please visit: www.cornishchoughs.org.
Published: April 2016
Author: Catherine Lee (National Trust Community & Volunteering Ranger)