Conservationists are celebrating as the first ever baby chough chick is born at the Wildwood Trust conservation centre. Expert conservationists at the Canterbury based charity say this is the first ever chough to be born in Kent in at least 150 years. Lost to Kent for centuries, the magnificent chough, which adorns the Canterbury City's coat of arms and civic regalia, can once again be seen back in the county synonymous with this wonderful bird.
The chough, a member of the crow family, is one of the rarest birds in the UK and was driven to extinction in Kent well over 100 years ago. The chough has a long-standing association with Kent and still lives on in the coat of arms of CanterburyCity and the University of Kent, and in Shakespeare's King Lear (Act iv – Fields near Dover, Scene 6) where he introduces the chough in his description of the Dover Cliffs.
The Canterbury-based charity Wildwood Trust is part of a ground-breaking project to assess if these amazing birds can be released back into the Kent countryside. Famed as acrobats of the sky, the chough naturally performs majestic flying displays which can now be seen by visitors to Kent's largest bird aviary at the Wildwood Trust Animal park on the A291 between Canterbury and Herne Bay. This is the first success by Wildwood's team of expert keepers in the hope of establishing a long-term breeding programme for the bird's return to Kent.
Leading rewilding expert & Wildwood Trust boss Peter Smith said:
"I am so thrilled we have bred this remarkable baby bird and this marks a landmark in reversing the damage done to our countryside. Our expert Keeper team are on a long and difficult journey to allow us to breed enough birds to fill Kent’s skies once again. The chough is an amazing bird whose aerial acrobatics can now thrill our hundreds of thousands of members and visitors. But the story of the chough gets to the very heart of problems of wildlife in the UK. The chough were driven to extinction by persecution and detrimental farming and landownership systems. We can bring these magnificent birds back to Kent, but to make them thrive in our countryside we must make some major changes to how we use the land and the chemicals we pour onto it. By rewilding poor agricultural land full of bugs and little beasties, choughs and a host of rare wildlife can once again thrive in Kent."
About the chough
While its black plumage identifies it as a crow, the chough (pronounced 'chuff') has a red bill and red legs unlike any other member of the crow family. Males and females are similar in appearance, but in juveniles the bill is yellow and the plumage and legs are duller in colour than in adults. The red-billed chough, a coastal cliff loving bird, is found mostly on the west coast of the United Kingdom. It became extinct in Englanduntil a population recolonised the Cornish coastline in the early 1990's. To date, this is still the only English population.
It is a superb and acrobatic flyer, and can be distinguished when soaring by the "finger feathers" at the wing tips. It is a highly sociable bird in winter, gathering in large flocks. In summer, they build a nest of twigs lined with moss, lichen and sheep's wool. Courtship often includes "mirrored" flying displays where the male and female will follow each other's flight patterns. Between 2 to 6 eggs are laid, which hatch after 19 days, and both parents feed the young until they fledge at six weeks. The young birds follow and harass their parents for food, until becoming independent and spreading their territories during the winter months. They breed from 2-3 continuing until almost 20 years old.
The chough population has become highly fragmented with several isolated populations around the coast of Britain in West Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man and a small population in Cornwall. The chough was once more widespread and formerly occurred as far east as Kent where it became extinct c. 160 years ago (Bullock et al. 1983). The decline of the species in the UK has been due to a number of factors including persecution, pesticides use and changes in farming practice.