EFFORTS to save one of Scotland's rarest birds have been effective in preventing further large population declines, a report has found.

In 2018 were fewer than 50 breeding pairs of red-billed choughs left on the islands of Islay and Colonsay, the only place the birds are found.

The birds are threatened simultaneously by lack of food, affecting first year survival, parasites and low genetic diversity.

However, conservation efforts by government agency NatureScot, which included feeding chicks and tackling bugs that bother the birds, has been deemed a success. 

Survival rates for newly-hatched choughs has increased, while those treated for parasites recovered after 2-3 days.

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The success of the programme means it has now been extended for a further two years, while other longer-term recovery options are explored. 


Islay is home to distilleries - and red-billed choughs.

NatureScot funded an emergency supplementary feeding programme that began in 2010 at multiple sites on Islay with treatment of parasites from 2014, alongside monitoring of the population.

Further measures will be needed to stabilise the species, including habitat improvements and reinforcing the population with birds from other UK populations to reduce inbreeding.

The detailed analysis in the report was carried out thanks to the tireless and committed long-term monitoring of the population by the Scottish Chough Study Group, RSPB Scotland, Aberdeen and Glasgow Universities and SRUC, which began in 1983.

NatureScot Ornithologist Dr Jessica Shaw said: “This robust report is the culmination of years of practical and scientific work to prevent the loss of chough from Scotland, with painstaking work by committed individuals on the islands.

“It demonstrates that these dedicated efforts have been successful in the short-term, and we’re pleased to confirm that NatureScot will continue to fund and support this chough conservation work over the next two years.

“The report makes several recommendations for the longer-term, and we will now explore options for the future, in consultation with partners in Scottish Government and the Scottish Chough Forum.”

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Professor Davy McCracken, of the Scottish Chough Study Group, said: “This is an excellent example of combining collaborative research and cutting edge modelling to address a practical nature conservation issue.

“We look forward to contributing to further key work, especially to improve feeding habitats for chough. This should focus on key grassland fields where adults take their young to feed after fledging, and on those sand dune systems of crucial importance to chough for the early years of their lives.”