Thursday, 14 June 2007

Cautiously Chough-ed with success

A recent announcement by RSPB Northern Ireland has raised hopes that the region’s rarest breeding bird, the Chough, will continue to prosper under its watchful eye. The 2007 breeding season has proved to be a productive one for this species, with three young hatching at Rathlin Island RSPB, Co Antrim.

The island’s warden, Liam McFaul, commented: “We are obviously delighted that the only breeding pair of Choughs in Northern Ireland have now become a fully fledged family.”

This year’s success story follows a barren period for the species on the island, with the last breeding success there as long ago as 1989 when a single chick was hatched.

Although things have gone well so far and the family have been watched engaged in feeding activities and exploratory flights, there is still cause for concern. Liam explained: “The next few months will be critical. Threats from predators and poor habitat management could place the birds in danger. We have been working over this past number of years … to ensure that the land was fit for the breeding pair.”

The species’ requirements include good quality foraging areas – essentially, short grassland on cliff tops and nearby fields where they can gather invertebrate prey.

The RSPB’s Chough Project Officer, Dr Gareth Bareham, commented: “This is wonderful news; yet we still have a long way to go before we can talk about the successful recovery of the Chough in Northern Ireland. Continued co-operation between conservationists, land managers, island farmers and government agencies is essential if we are to protect and retain this wonderfully charismatic species.”

The Chough, once known as the Fire Raven, has a British population of between 450-500 pairs and is considered to be declining over its European range, with less than 110,000 pairs. There was a strong decline during the period 1970-90 and although numbers stabilised overall between 1990-2000, the main population centres, in Spain and Turkey, declined by about 10 per cent.

Commenting on the Northern Ireland success, Hugh McCann of the Environment and Heritage Service said: “EHS and RSPB have been working towards providing the appropriate conditions to allow Chough to recolonise on Rathlin. I am delighted that they have responded to the habitat management and bred successfully on our reserve.”

Photo: Choughs by Dominic Mitchell