Rare Cornwall choughs tricked into raising foster chick

Image caption,
A decline in cliff-top grazing contributed to the choughs' decline

A pair of breeding Cornish choughs who had no fertilized eggs of their own have successfully adopted another chough chick.

The distinctive rare birds returned to Cornwall in 2001 after a 50-year absence.

With red legs, black plumage and a curving red beak, the chough features on the Cornish coat of arms alongside a miner and a fisherman.

Paradise Park in Hayle currently has four breeding pairs of adult choughs.

The park is responsible for Operation Chough, a long-term project which aims to boost numbers in Cornwall to maintain a healthy population.

Curator David Woolcock said: "We have four pairs of choughs nesting, and two have been very successful rearing a total of five chicks between them.

"However, the female in nest three had not been successful in rearing chicks in the past and when she broke two of her eggs we decided to take the last one away."

This was placed in the nest of the pair of choughs whose eggs were infertile, with the hope the birds would accept it as their own.

"This proved very successful, the chick hatched and is thriving," Mr Woolcock said.

"As a single chick it gets plenty of attention and food from its doting foster parents."

Arthurian legend

Choughs feed mainly on soil-living insects and prefer short turf with a plentiful supply of dung.

The use of pesticides and the decline in cliff-top grazing has been blamed for their demise in the county.

Paradise Park said the breeding programme of its "pioneer population" was vital.

It is also extending its partnerships with other bird collections to establish breeding groups in other locations.

This will help to increase the captive population, which should then enable birds to be released in the future.

In Cornish legend, it is said King Arthur was transformed into a chough when he died - with the red feet and beak representing his violent, bloody end.

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