Red Billed Chough Captive Breeding and Reintroductions
We have been conducting recall training with the choughs which has involved them leaving the aviary for short periods of time. The birds have been exploring the big, wide world with curious caution and are quick learners when it comes to their recall training (which will allow us to monitor their health post-release).
Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, we have now decided to postpone the chough release until summer next year. Keep an eye on our social media and this webpage for updates in the New Year.
For over 200 years the Red Billed Chough has been missing from Kent, but we have partnered with Kent Wildlife Trust to reintroduce this magnificent bird to the cliffs of Dover! We are also indebted to other stakeholders in this project including Paradise Park in Cornwall, the White Cliffs Countryside Partnership, English Heritage and Jersey Zoo.
We could not have set this project up without the unwavering support of the public. Thanks to your generous donations, we have raised £240,000 for the Chough reintroduction project and are well on our way to seeing these acrobatic birds soaring above the cliffs of Kent again.
Despite once being a common sight on the coasts of Kent and across England, Chough populations have plummeted to only 23 pairs today. Intensification of farming has reduced viable habitat and prey items for this insectivorous corvid, and historic persecution also whittled down their numbers. We know chough were once abundant here from historical records and literature, such as their depiction on the Canterbury coat of arms and in the story of Thomas Becket’s murder.
Strongholds of Chough remain in Ireland and Wales, but the limited dispersal ability of this species means they require assistance to re-establish populations, even where habitat is suitable.
Choughs are unlike other corvids and have quite specific habitat requirements. They like to nest on cliffs to remain safe from predators, and they also require insect-rich grassland to forage for food. Dover is well known for its cliffs, but what the cliffs are made of is also very important for chough. Chalk grassland is an incredibly rare habitat, with 50% of all global chalk grassland being located in England. It also has exceptionally high insect biodiversity, due to its low nutrient levels providing perfect conditions for a huge range of flowering plants to flourish.
A successful Chough restoration project was trialled on the island of Jersey between 2013-2018 and has successfully restored the species back to Jersey. The project was a partnership between Jersey Zoo, the States of Jersey and The National Trust for Jersey and we are extremely grateful to our colleagues at Jersey Zoo for their generous advice and guidance. Many of the techniques developed on Jersey are being used to guide the Kent project.
The reintroduction of the chough will drive the restoration of this and other important habitats along our coastline which will benefit the recovery of other wildlife. Now, it is more important than ever to return missing species and the complex habitats on which they depend.
This exciting project would not have been possible without the breeding programme for the species which has been managed by Paradise Park in Cornwall for over 30 years. We are working closely with Paradise Park to set up four breeding pairs of Chough at Wildwood, three of these arrived in early April 2022. Within a week of arriving, they have already started to build nests. This means we are expecting to hatch Chough chicks very soon. Our original pair of Chough have been breeding at Wildwood successfully each year since 2017 and are the parents of the four ambassador birds currently housed in a specially built aviary at Dover Castle, to promote the project.
Conservation breeding requires particular techniques to ensure that these birds will be able to survive in the wild and will have the necessary social skills to mate and live alongside each other. Occasionally keepers assist in the rearing of chicks to ensure the maximum number of chicks survive.
The parent birds have also been specially selected to ensure genetic diversity is high and the risk of in-breeding is low.
Our four pairs of chough have already started nesting, so we are planning to release birds bred at Wildwood and at Paradise Park in the late summer of 2022! If you are keen to see a Chough before they are flying free above the White Cliffs, you can either see the breeding pairs at Wildwood, or there are currently four ambassador Chough which were bred at Wildwood in 2021 in a specially built aviary at Dover Castle.
The reintroduction of the Red-billed Chough to Kent is the first step in a much broader vision to help restore the birds across Southern England.
Subscribe to ‘Chough Newsletter’ to get the latest on the chough project here.
Check out Kent Wildlife Trust’s page on the Chough Reintroduction here.
If you would like to get involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Download our chough education pack which outlines some of the key topics of learning from the Chough Reintroduction Project for students in Key Stage One and Key Stage Two. Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust offer workshops for all topics within this pack.