White-winged Chough (Corcorax melanorhamphos), also called black magpies, are found throughout most of eastern and south-eastern mainland Australia and are naturally found in open forests and woodlands.
I first met choughs in parkland in the middle of Canberra city and thought they were crows or ravens, but the curved bill and red eye distinguish it from these birds. I learned these were endangered and rare but also clever and adaptive birds and the flock here, in the middle of the city are keenly watched and protected.
A vocal and extremely sociable bird Choughs feed mostly on the ground and are almost always seen in groups of up to 10, raking through the grass and ground litter. When I came to the farm I found I have several large clans of choughs – I call them clans because they have a really interesting matriarchal heirarchy and live in identifiable family groupings.
These groups normally consist of only one breeding pair, the other birds being offspring from previous years. The young birds help with nest building, incubation and feeding of chicks.
The nest is distinctive-a large bowl of mud, which is built on a horizontal branch within 15 m of the ground. The eggs are cream-coloured, with large brown spots. When the chicks first leave the nest, they are not able to fly, and are easy prey for feral cats and foxes. Young Choughs start off duskier than the adults, and the eye is brown.
They do not reach sexual maturity until four years of age and, during this time, the eye changes from brown to orange and then to red, and the plumage darkens.
Parties of Choughs are known to kidnap young birds from neighbouring groups. This might be why they have a reputation for also stealing checks and eggs – but I haven’t actually seen this and don’t know if they’re feeding habit extends to eating small birds.
This might be why they have a reputation for also stealing chicks and eggs from poultrypens– but I haven’t actually seen this and don’t know if they’re feeding habit extends to eating small birds.
I think I can probably safely leave the loss of chicks and eggs to all the OTHER predators I have actually seen doing this –goanna, eagles, the currawongs and even native marsupials (they all look like rats) rather than the choughs…
I’ve noticed that they are different in their behaviour to magpies and I have large numbers of magpies at the front of the property, about a kilometre away from the well established groups of choughs- and have observed the clans stay closely together and the magpies seem to avoid them.
In their natural setting, large feeding territories are kept, which are often up to 1000 ha in size and choughs are great at cleaning up grasshoppers and other insects and some seeds.
In the city the birds territory includes the leafy ANU campus and extends throughout the adjoining suburbs and green spaces-the sad thing about losing the huge gums along Northbourne Avenue was the opportunity of observing these fascinating birds as you crawl through the morning peak hour…
While there are a lot here, they are rare and endangered because there are very few large areas of native forest left in NSW.
I was pretty disappointed to have ‘lost’ my ipad this past week while in Canberra City, so i cant share with you the fantastic video footage i had of the birds enjoying the spent brewery grain i had fed out to the pigs……