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Rathlin island chough stay at home for christmas

Last modified: 20 December 2012

Chough standing on ground

Image: Chris Gomersall

This year is shaping up to be a special one for our only breeding pair of chough in Northern Ireland.  It looks like the birds are intending to spend Christmas at home, which is a first for our rarest breeding bird.

This year for the first time the chough bred on RSPB’s Rathlin Nature Reserve on land paid for by members. The RSPB are managing a large area of land for chough on our Rathlin reserve, where they can be seen feeding throughout the year.  In previous years the birds have left the Island around late October and disappear from the North Coast until February when they return to prepare for a new breeding season.

Chough outside Northern Ireland usually spend winter roosting on or near their nest site.  But our birds seem to fancy a change of scenery and despite the best efforts of the RSPB, their location in winter remains a mystery. 

The RSPB think the young from the previous two years are spending winter apart from the parent birds, on grounds somewhere on the North Coast. 

Michael McLaughlin, RSPB Agri Environment Officer commented, ‘The reason the birds are staying this late in the year is most likely due to the great work of several dedicated landowners on the North Coast who take on targeted chough habitat management.’  This type of specific land management is carried out with the help of RSPB advisors, through DARD’s  Agri Environment Schemes and gives a lifeline to some of our rarest species, including the chough.

In the summer and winter chough are most often seen here on land managed for them under the scheme, which provides excellent feeding  and entices them to spend the whole year at home instead of moving away for the winter.  The RSPB's reserve on Rathlin is perfect for these birds, the reserve is also extremely important for corncrake, breeding seabirds, plant and the illusive hare, though tto be a subspecies.

Chough are a member of the crow family but are very striking with a distinctive red curved bill and red legs. The RSPB needs your help to identify where the young birds are spending the winter months on the North Coast.  If you see these birds regularly in your area please contact Michael on 02890699091 or email

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