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Read by Charley and Dave

bracken

bracken

As we mentioned last week, having the proper habitat is very important. Choughs need short grazed grassland for feeding and in Jersey a lot has disappeared under all the bracken. Birds On The Edge is working with local people to try and remove the bracken.

It isn't as easy. For a start a lot grows on steep rocky slopes pointing straight down into the sea. You could walk down cutting it back by hand. This is very hard work and takes a long time. Volunteers at Sorel have tried this.

But there is a problem....grows back.

National Trust for Jersey clearing bracken

National Trust for Jersey clearing bracken

Bracken have thick root-like stems, called rhizomes, which grow underground. Rhizomes can grow up to six feet longs so cutting it above ground won't stop it from growing.

The better option is to use grazing animals like cows or sheep. They don't necessarily eat the bracken but they trample the ground exposing the rhizomes and destroying them. They eat the surrounding grass keeping it short for the insects and ultimately the birds that eat the insects.

Manx Loagthan sheep

Manx Loagthan sheep

Here in Jersey we use sheep. Multi-horned Manx Loagthan sheep to be precise. These are a primitive breed of sheep specially adapted to suriving on cliff faces. It is pretty impressive how far down they can get.

The sheep are allowed to roam free around Sorel, but are closely managed by shepherds Aaron and Sam. Only females and juveniles are kept at Sorel. The males are  separate because they can be quite aggressive during the breeding season and it might not go down too well with tourists.

Lambs are born at the farm in St Catherines then moved to Sorel when old enough

Lambs are born at the farm in St Catherines then moved to Sorel when old enough

All the lambing occurs off site too because it involves very intensive management. The lambs are moved to Sorel with their mums when they are a few months old. Today there are over 230 sheep at Sorel.

 There are other benefits to keeping sheep and choughs together. One bonus is that the choughs use wool to line their nests and protect their eggs from damage. In other chough-friendly countries like Mongolia, it won't be sheep's wool but yaks' hair!

Issy, one of Durrell's choughs, carrying nesting material

Issy, one of Durrell's choughs, carrying nesting material

Another bonus might not be obvious and it is a little bit gross. Its their poo! Certain insects feed and lay their eggs in sheep dung. The larvae which grow in the dung are perfect snacks for choughs. That is where that long slender bill comes in. They probe the dung to pick out the insects.

insect larvae living in sheep dung

insect larvae living in sheep dung

If you go walking in Cornwall or Wales look for cow pats with lots of small holes in somewhere nearby will be a chough!

The sheep tke a break whilst the choughs reap the benefits

The sheep take a break whilst the choughs reap the benefits

ECOLOGIST'S UPDATE

Another EXCLUSIVE for you....the hand reared chough chicks have finally fledged!

three fledged chough chicks

three fledged chough chicks

The eldest chick was the first to leave the nest box quickly followed by the other two females chicks. The youngest, a boy, took a few days longer to make the leap despite only being 1-2 days younger. They run up to the keeper begging for food and are very inquisitive, pecking at everything they can see including camera lenses. Then they hop back into the nest box and take a nap until the next feed.

Wild chough chicks do the same thing. They hop around exploring the cave or rock face for a few days learning the ropes before finally taking to the air and flying.

Today our chicks took their first flight. Well they flew across a gap of 2 metres, but you have to start somewhere right?