IT is certainly something to crow about ...

The dramatic decline of one of Scotland’s rarest birds has been halted, according to a new report.

The Scottish population of the red-billed chough had fallen to just a few dozen breeding pairs and only found on the islands of Colonsay and Islay.

But conservation measures to help save the threatened species have been effective in preventing further large population declines, says research.

However the status of the chough in Scotland remains fragile and importing birds from other UK populations will be needed.

The report published by NatureScot found that supplementary feeding and parasite treatment aimed at preventing chough extinction in Scotland have been successful.

Choughs - colourful cousins of the crow - mate for life and return to the same nest every year.

The birds favour a ledge inside a cave, but have been encouraged to raise their young in artificial sites built by enthusiasts on the islands.

The chough was once a natural feature of the east coast.

Bones have been found on Orkney, but they have not been recorded in the east since they were observed at St Abb’s Head more than 100 years ago.

NatureScot has now committed to funding the measures for a further two years to support the Scottish population, while exploring longer-term recovery options.

On the islands of Islay and Colonsay there were fewer than 50 pairs in 2018.

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

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.

The report found that supplementary feeding has successfully increased key demographic rates, including first year survival, and birds treated for parasites recovered after 2-3 days, concluding that the programme was an effective short-term conservation action.

However, it adds that in the longer-term, 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 has been possible 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.”

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.”

Chough appear to thrive on the kind of low-density farming that has largely disappeared from mainland Britain, but still dominates on the Hebridean islands and those parts of Europe where the chough is still found in numbers.

Small populations are also found in Wales and the Isle of Man.

In the UK as a whole, there are estimated to be around 394 breeding pairs.