Cornish Choughs return to Cornwall after 200 years – the Demise and Rise of a species

By Amber Cobley

Enough of the bad publicity on immigration at the moment. Let’s take a look at one of the greatest natural immigration success stories over the past 200 hundred years right here on our doorstep in Cornwall.

Records note that for 200 years, there have been no breeding choughs around the Roseland area in Cornwall. Until Sunday 3rd July 2016. Now a day for the history books, one of three young choughs just discovered in the area was caught on camera sunning itself fully fledged!


Photo Credit: David Hall –

The Demise 

Human impacts on the populations of Cornish Choughs were reported by many naturalists in the late 18th century, but as we still see today, their warnings were largely ignored despite the choughs absolute prominence in the Cornish coat of arms. This ignorance is perhaps unsurprising when we see the naturalists lay cause in the hands of sportsmen, specimen trophy collectors and the removal of natural heathland to make way for more urbanised areas…

1910 marked a sad day, where the chough’s battle was lost, and the iconic birds disappeared from all South coast counties…apart from Cornwall! With true Cornish heart, choughs persisted in Cornwall until the last Cornish breeding pair demised in 1947.

The rise

The spring of 2001 marked a special time for the Cornish crows, when a tiny influx of immigrants from Ireland recolonized many of the southern coastal counties, from Dorset to the Isles of Scilly. Originally assumed to have arrived from south Wales or Britanny, clever DNA work using dropped moulted feathers of the birds allowed researchers at the University of Aberdeen to compare the DNA sequences they found with sequences from other colonies around the country. This is when they found the surprising connection with Ireland, much further afield than we previously knew they could travel!

The size

Progress is still slow, as the family that these birds reside in (the Corvidae) experience very high mortality rates. However, since 2002, 132 chicks have successfully fledged from Cornish nests and the number and area from which they fly from is always increasing.

So a successful natural immigration event has helped to boost the amazing avian diversity we all know and love here and Cornwall and helped restore the strength of our cultural heritage – long may it live in our coat of arms!

Kernow byz vyken!

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