Bon voyage! First Jersey chough spotted in France

In October 2020, one of Jersey’s wild-bred red-billed choughs took flight across the channel and found itself in Normandy, France. For Birds On The Edge, a partnership between Durrell, Government of Jersey’s Land Resource Management team, and National Trust for Jersey, this exciting discovery is the first-ever confirmed sighting of a Jersey chough outside the Island.

The red-billed chough, once a common sight in the Channel Islands, became extinct in Jersey around 1900. Unlikely to reappear naturally, captive-bred birds were released in small cohorts between 2013 and 2018. Within two years they had begun breeding in the wild and can once again call Jersey home. Now, the Island’s chough population is made up of 43 birds, of which almost half hatched in the wild as a result of this successful reintroduction.

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In France, choughs are only found in three areas – the Alps, the Pyrenees and the north-west corner of Brittany. So, the bird’s arrival in Normandy came as a welcome surprise to Liz Corry, Durrell’s Chough Field Manager.

“This is a very exciting prospect for the project and the restoration of red-billed choughs in Europe,” said Liz. “The bird in question had fledged from a nest in Ronez Quarry in June last year, and then followed her parents to our supplemental feed site at Sorel. Free to fly wherever she pleased, she initially stayed close to Sorel with the other young choughs, then on 23rd October she was discovered foraging close to the lighthouse in Carteret. There are plenty of foraging opportunities around the area, especially the dunes at Hatainville, so maybe one day soon she will be joined by another chough!”

Today, the nearest colonies of chough to Jersey are in Brittany, where there are around 50 pairs, and Cornwall, where the species is doing well since naturally recolonising in 2001, and on the Gower Peninsula and Pembrokeshire in Wales. There are less than 500 pairs of this rare bird in all of the UK and the Isle of Man.

The choughs are a flagship species for Birds On The Edge, which is a wider restoration programme for coastal species in Jersey.