Name: there are two species of birds commonly called chough – the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) and the Alpine or yellow-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus). There is also a white-winged chough of Australia although this species is only distantly related.
Appearance: choughs have black feathers similar to other members of the crow family. What sets them apart is their brightly coloured bills and legs. The Alpine chough has a yellow bill and the red-billed chough has a long, curved, red bill. Both species have bright red legs.
Size: the red-billed chough is around 40 cm long with a wingspan of 90 cm, while the Alpine is slightly smaller at 39 cm long and 85 cm across the wings.
Diet: they feed on beetles, snails, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and ants. Choughs look for prey by digging in the soils of closely grazed grasslands or coastal areas with limited vegetation.
Did you know: both species make their nests in steep cliff faces and ledges, although will sometimes use man-made structures such as abandoned buildings, quarries, or dams. They are adept at flying in stormy mountain conditions and are famous for their acrobatic displays soaring in the updraughts around cliffs and diving through the winds. In winter, Alpine choughs are increasingly looking to ski resorts and mountain settlements for food. This has helped them to remain at high altitudes through the winter. They have even been recorded nesting at 6,500 m – higher than any other bird species. And have been observed following mountaineers ascending Mount Everest at an altitude of 8,200 m!
Location: choughs can be found in mountains from Morocco and Spain to southern Europe and the Alps, across Central Asia and the Himalayas, to western China. While they are mountain specialists, red-billed choughs can also be found in coastal sea cliffs in Ireland, Great Britain, and Brittany.
Where to see choughs
According to reports submitted to WildSide, you can see choughs in the following places:
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Photo credit: gailhampshire under a Creative Commons licence from Flickr