Chough – 1894

Pyrrhocorax graculus – Resident.

There can be no doubt that 50 years ago the Chough was a common bird on the coast all the way round from Tenby to St. David’s Head, and on towards Cardiganshire about Dinas, &c. It is now rapidly becoming scarce, and if it were not for its sagacity in building in holes and crannies of inaccessible cliffs, it would long ago have been exterminated, as all its eggs would have been taken to meet the demands of collectors.

In describing his birds-nesting experiences, our friend the Rev. C. M. Phelps well says: “If the Raven’s nest be difficult to get at, much more is that of the Chough. Like the Raven he chooses the highest cliffs; but he does more. He finds out all the deepest holes, and there he places his nest out of sight and out of reach. And should there be a dark chasm or cauldron anywhere in the neighbourhood, in the darkest depths of that chasm the nest and eggs will be securely hidden. In one instance, at St. David’s, the nest was built in the roof of a cave. At low tide only could the cave be approached, and then, to get into it a brother oologist had to strip and swim across a deep, cold pool, only to find the nest far beyond his reach in a deep hole in the roof of the cavern.

In another case, also at St. David’s, the nest was placed under an extremely over-hanging cliff of purple silurian, in a hole six or eight feet deep. This hole was some 40 feet from the rocks below, and was impregnable, as it could neither be reached from the summit nor from the shore. I have known a third placed in a narrow chasm, 150 feet in depth, and with walls of rock as sheer as the sides of a house.”

In former days, Mr. Phelps says, according to tradition, the Choughs nested in the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace at St. David’s, until they were driven out by Jackdaws, but as the nests could there have been easily robbed, he suspects they were “human Jackdaws.” The nest, he states, is large, and lined with wool.

He one day saw a large flock of Choughs wheeling about the lofty rocky promontory known as Dinas Head. We have seen the Chough on Ramsey Island. His longer wings and more buoyant flight serve easily to distinguish him from the Jackdaw, and his cry is also unmistakable.

Our friend, Mr. Mortimer Propert, of St. David’s, possesses some beautiful clutches of Chough’s eggs, all taken by himself on his romantic coast. Some of his eggs are the largest we have ever seen, and are slightly pyriform, like varieties we have seen of other species of Corvida.

Young Choughs are very easily tamed, and are very familiar and impudent. One kept by Mr. Tracy was omnivorous in its diet, and liked to have its head scratched by children. “When alone he is constantly chattering, squalling, and making a variety of noises, but I have not heard him distinctly articulate any word yet, although he appears equally capable with the Parrot.”

Mr. Samuel Gurney, writing to the Zoologist for 1857, describes the ruins of Manorbeer Castle, near Tenby, as being at that date frequented by Choughs “which bred there in great abundance.” He was told by the village schoolmaster that in the breeding season and in the winter the Choughs were very tame, collecting in numbers around the school-room door at the time the school broke up in order to pick up pieces of bread thrown to them by the children. An anecdote was told him of one of the Choughs that had been brought up by some children who lived about two miles from the village. Whenever they left home to go to school the bird would precede them, and arrive there a few minutes after they had started, and some twenty minutes before them. This it did so regularly that the master knew when the children might be expected.”

Mr. Charles Jefferys, of Tenby, informs us that he believes the Chough still breeds at the back of Caldy, i.e., on the channel side of the island. They certainly did some four or five years ago, and in the spring of 1893 he saw a pair flying about the adjacent island of St. Margaret’s that had come from the direction of Caldy. During the ten years he has resided in Tenby he has never known any eggs of the Chough, or young, to be taken in the immediate neighbourhood, and, as far as he is aware, no birds have been killed on Caldy; still, they each year become rarer. Six or seven years ago he used to see them pretty often about the cliffs between Tenby and Lydstep, but very rarely sees one now.

A friend of ours who was paying a summer visit to Tenby recently tells us that he shot a Chough on the beach there that was flying at a considerable distance from him in the midst of a flock of Jackdaws. Apart from the persecution they meet with, the Choughs appear to be dying out in Pembrokeshire just as they are in Cornwall and Devonshire, where in former years they were equally numerous. When he was staying at Tenby in June, 1887, Mr. E. VV. H. Blagg tells us that he saw several old Choughs on the coast by Giltar.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

More about the Chough in Pembrokeshire