One of Northern Ireland’s rarest breeding birds returns to Rathlin

This Valentine’s Day saw the return of a special couple to the cliff tops of Rathlin Island.

Special because they are Northern Ireland’s only remaining pair of chough, back again for another breeding season.

Chough are an enigmatic crow – clever, resourceful with bright red legs, feathery trousers and a red curved bill – perfectly adapted to a coastal life where they nest on cliffs and feed on invertebrates in short vegetation.

Whilst formerly widespread right around the coastline of Britain and Ireland, chough are primarily restricted now to isolated pockets on the Isle of Man, Islay in Scotland and the south and west coast of Ireland from Waterford to Donegal.

For the last few decades the Northern Irish population has been declining, and more recently restricted to just one pair which may or may not breed successfully each year.

February 2012 saw the pair arrive from their mysterious winter location, within a day of the return date from the previous year. The pair were displaying around their cliff top nest site on Rathlin Island on Valentine’s Day.

Chough are the focus of RSPB NI’s work on Rathlin and the north coast, with on-going habitat management work aimed at recovering the population to its former double-figure levels. With just two birds – one breeding pair – they are very rare and precious birds indeed. If the pair manage to raise a family this year they form our best chance of establishing a new breeding generation.

If you see Chough away from Rathlin Ireland, RSPB NI would be very keen to hear from you. Please contact the RSPB NI office on 028 9049 1547.