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Read by Dave

Choughs in their aviary waiting for the hatches to open.

Choughs in their aviary waiting for the hatches to open.

Imagine how it must feel to spend years making sure birds stay in their aviaries, then one day being asked to open the door and let seven choughs fly free. Especially after spending the last six months solely with these seven, feeding them, cleaning up after them, and training them for the big wide world.

Now imagine how the birds must feel. Scared, anxious, yet excited. Everything is new and you have the freedom to go anywhere.

It is a rollercoaster of emotions for everyone concerned and just like rollercoasters there can be big ups and big downs.

One of the biggest highs has been when the birds are actually high, so high in the sky that they become dots then disappear.

choughs soaring high (look for the tiny black dots!)

choughs soaring high (look for the tiny black dots!)

They can spend an hour just soaring and playing in the air before coming back down to refuel. This year the group spent a few days exploring the coast.

View from Crabbe looking back at the Sorel

View from Crabbe looking back at the Sorel

After being released in the morning they would fly west until they reached an area called Crabbé. Here they would meet the family of ravens, avoid the peregrines (!), and fly over a few tourists on the way. They never landed, just circled above taking in the scenery, then return to the aviary and feed. They would do this two or three times before deciding to settle in the fields by the aviary until roost.

Click here to see a video of the choughs in flight: Choughs flying over Pierre

A definite low point was the day we lost two choughs. One day back in August we released the birds late in the afternoon. The group was out feeding in front of the aviary and everything was going to plan. A chance encounter with a flock of thirty crows distracted them. They took to the air, mixing with the crows and flying in all directions. When it came time to call them back in not everyone heard the call. Then it rained…a lot…and didn’t stop until it went dark.

The quarry at Sorel

The quarry at Sorel

Some birds made it back to the aviary but four went to find shelter in the quarry. Black, Blue, Orange, and White stayed in the quarry for a week roosting on the rock face and feeding in the grassy embankments. One morning we couldn’t see them, but their radio signals were transmitting from one corner of the quarry.

At lunchtime three of the signals had moved to the opposite corner but we could only see Black and Blue. The signal for White sounded as if she was flying around so we were not too concerned. I asked the quarry men if I could go inside and look for the Orange as his signal had not moved in a long time.

Unfortunately when I did I was met by a worker who handed me the body of a chough. He had found it at the bottom of the quarry. When I looked at the leg ring it was White and not Orange! The movement of White was her being driven out of the quarry by the workers.

White - the female who sadly perished in the quarry

White - the female who sadly perished in the quarry

Sadly Orange was never recovered. He signal continued to transmit in the same place for five months. For safety reasons we have never been able to reach where he was and since we haven’t seen an unmarked chough flying around we have to assume he died. The post mortem revealed that White died of starvation. The same day we found her we started catapulting insects into the quarry and managed to feed the other two. I am happy to report that Black and Blue are still flying around to this day and looking very healthy.

Black spent four weeks in the quarry before returning home. Her soiled bill suggests she has been looking for grubs in the ground

Black spent four weeks in the quarry before returning home. Her soiled bill suggests she has been looking for grubs in the ground

You can read more about the adventures of the choughs by reading the monthly reports and updates on the Birds On The Edge website.

ECOLOGIST'S UPDATE

Hand reared chough chicks

Hand reared chough chicks

Exclusive news! The DNA sexing results came back today for the chough chicks we have been hand-rearing. We have to send a tiny dot of blood on paper to a laboratory overseas (we don't have anywhere on the island). They then work their lab geek magic and compare the DNA to known samples. We have to wait a few weeks for the results.

In the meantime we placed bets on the results. Judging by their body weights we suspected we might have one boy. There is a difference in the sexes. Males tend to be heavier and leave the nest at around 300 grams. Females tend to weigh about 270 grams when they fledge. Although with nestlings it can be deceptive because stronger chicks will beg more and therefore eat more.

We are pleased to announce we have one boy and three girls. This is brilliant news for the release project as we need another male to increase the chances of breeding in the wild.

Chough chicks

Chough chicks - Yellow on the left is a male