As you cross the Tamar Bridge, you know you’re entering Cornwall by the large crest displayed proudly. The Cornish crest features, among other things, a chough. Yet for years the crest was the only place in Cornwall where you could see a chough.
Choughs are members of the crow family, with distinctive curved red beaks. They eat insects, and hunt for food in the short grass of grazed coastal areas, where insects are easy to come by. They’re known in other parts of the UK as Crows of Cornwall, and are part of some of the legends about King Arthur (whom some claim lived in Cornwall).
The population of choughs in Cornwall declined from the nineteenth century until 1973, when the last, lonely, survivor died. The Cornish national bird was no longer Cornish. The decline is thought to be partly due to changes in farming practice, with livestock being moved further inland, allowing scrub to develop on the ungrazed cliff edges.
Then, in 2001, 3 choughs from Ireland found their way to Cornwall, settling on the tip of the Lizard peninsula. The next year two of them paired-up and bred, bringing up Cornish-born choughs for the first time in decades. The small colony of birds has been gradually expanding each year, through breeding and the addition of a few more immigrants.
A committed band of volunteers have been keeping a close eye on the birds to protect and monitor the nests. You can read more about their work, and this heartening story, on the excellent Cornish Choughs website.