Legacy of the Lizard (article)

You might well remember that, on a magical day in 2001, three red-billed Choughs arrived on the Lizard after being absent from Cornwall for nearly 30 years. This article is the 2014 update on the Choughs' story.
Photo: Andy Hay (rspbimages.com) 

Andy Hay (rspbimages.com)

You might well remember that, on a magical day in 2001, three red-billed Choughs arrived on the Lizard after being absent from Cornwall for nearly 30 years. Thirteen years on, what happened to this legacy?

In 2002 two of the three birds that arrived in 2001 settled at Lizard Point and bred successfully. This was the first time in over 50 years that choughs, the Cornish Crow, had bred in Cornwall. This pioneering pair continued to breed at Britain's Most Southerly Point for 12 years, raising young who have since gone on to produce families of their own. We now have seven breeding pairs in Cornwall.

Unfortunately, last year we saw the dramatic end of the pioneering pair. In an attempt to see off a local younger male the original Lizard Point male was fatally wounded. The incoming bird soon paired up with the existing female and to our surprise continued to help her raise her two chicks. Two weeks after loosing the original male we then lost the original female bird.(Both she and the original male were estimated to be over 14years old, which is a good age for a chough as the average lifespan is estimated at 10yrs, the maximum being 16yrs.) No one would have expected what happened next - the incoming male continued to raise the two chicks on his own through a very challenging month of foul weather. To our delight the chicks finally fledged in July 2013, and we are happy to report that they are still alive today.


After a shocking season, volunteers were left feeling unsettled. It was an amazing story, but how would it end? After his chicks left, would he be the last chough left on the Lizard? Would this pioneering nest site be occupied by a lonely bird ? As if written in a fairy tale, in August 2013 another new bird arrived on the scene, and she was female.The two birds paired up late last summer and have been closely monitored by local volunteers throughout the year.As we had all hoped, the pair settled down to breed earlier this spring.

In contrast to last year, when the choughs really struggled to find enough lining material for their nest, we have been delighted to watch the new pair to - ing and fro - ing from local fields collecting sheep 's wool. While our new tenants at Tregullas Farm were busy lambing, they were being visited by the choughs and other birds that were making good use of the spare wool to line their nests. Tregullas Farm has played a key role in the choughs success from the very beginning. The coastal fields and the near by cliff tops are grazed and managed for choughs and other local wildlife. As well providing suitable habitat and foraging ground, Tregullas Farm is now incidentally providing an endless supply of wool for birds on the Lizard. It has been fantastic to watch the choughs heave bill-ful after bill-ful into the cave, and it' s a good job there was enough wool to go around, because just when we thought we were back into the normal routine, we had another surprise in store!

RSPB and National Trust volunteers watched on tender hooks as the choughs built two complete nests at different sites on Lizard Point this spring. Where would they settle, would it be in the original nest cave or would they choose the new, less sheltered site? Thankfully they settled in the original nest cave, where you can see them today. The chicks appear to have hatched now and both adult birds are making regular feeding trips to and from the cave, so it's the best time to come and see them.

The National Trust watchpoint is open 10am – 4pm daily, where volunteers are on hand with up to date information, binoculars and telescope to give you fantastic views. Please be aware it might be necessary to close the watchpoint in bad weather. If you can't join us at the watchpoint but you would like to keep up with our news please visit www.lizardandpenrose.blogspot.co.uk or www.facebook.com /LizardNT .  

If you would like more information on the choughs please visit: www.cornishchoughs.org

Published: May 2014
Author: Catherine Lee (National Trust)
Photographs: Terry Thirlaway

Click here for information about other bird species found on the Lizard.