Red-Billed Chough

Red-Billed Choughs[Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax]: Flight, Sounds, Conservation, and More

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Scientific Classification

Pyrrhocorax Pyrrhocorax

Red-Billed Choughs

The crimson foot and curled beak of the scarlet-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), a member of the crow family, make it easy to identify. P. p. pyrrhocorax weighs 310 g and measures about 39–40 cm in length and 73–90 cm in wingspan.


  1. Species and Habitat:
    • Red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax).
    • Member of the crow family.
    • Inhabits coastal cliffs and highlands.
    • Breeds in Central Asia, India, China, and western Ireland and Britain.
    • Eight subspecies.
  2. Physical Characteristics:
    • Red legs, bent bill, and glossy black plumage.
    • Displays these features during flight.
    • Buoyant and acrobatic flying.
    • Lifetime fidelity display, nesting in cliffs.
    • Nests in a stick nest covered in wool, laying three eggs.
  3. Habitat and Behavior:
    • Inhabits grazed grasslands.
    • Primarily eats invertebrates.
    • Often seen in flocks.
  4. Regional Challenges:
    • Faces regional difficulties in Europe.
    • Challenges due to predation and agricultural changes.
    • Not globally threatened.
  5. Cultural and Historical Significance:
    • Historically connected to Cornwall, Saint Thomas Becket, and fire-raising.
    • Has the jackdaw’s name.
    • Retains symbolic value, featured on postage stamps in non-native areas such as the Isle of Man and the Gambia.
Red-Billed Chough

Species in same Genus

SpeciesCommon NameRange
Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocoraxRed-billed choughEurope, Asia, North Africa (mountainous/coastal)
Pyrrhocorax graculusAlpine choughSouthern Eurasia (Alps, Pyrenees, Carpathians, Himalayas)


Upupa pyrrhocorax was the name given to the red-billed chough by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. In 1771, Marmaduke Tunstall moved the species to the Pyrrhocorax genus. Grecian mythology defines “pyrrhos” as “flame-colored” and “korax” as “raven.”

The Alpine chough is the only member of its genus. In particular, cheeks and jackdaws in the Coloeus subgenus share a close ancestry with common crows.The jackdaw was originally given the onomatopoeic name “Chough” due to its distinctive call, Corvus monedula.

The red-billed species was formerly called the “Cornish chough” due to its widespread distribution in Cornwall; however, it later adopted the abbreviated term “chough,” so changing its name from one species to another.

The Australian white-winged chough, Corcorax melanorhamphos, is not even closely related to actual choughs, despite having a similar appearance and habit. It is a rare case of convergent evolution.


Its glossy green body, silky black feathers, and distinctive red bill and legs give it a distinctive appearance. Although the sexes are similar, juveniles have less glossy plumage, an orange bill, and pink legs until their first fall.

The red-billed chough may be easily distinguished from other local birds. The Alpine chough has a short yellow bill, while the jackdaw is larger with unglossed grey plumage. The Alpine chough flies differently, with longer tails that are less square-ended and less rectangular wings.

Unlike its yellow-billed relative, which makes whistling sweeeooo noises and rippling preep, the red-billed chough has a more distinct chee-ow call. In comparison to the jackdaw, it is also clearer and louder. Smaller subspecies have higher call frequencies, which are negatively connected with body sizes.

Red-Billed Chough

Distribution and Habitat

There are two red-billed chough populations in the Ethiopian Highlands. The breed can be found in the Mediterranean basin, the Alps, Ireland, western Great Britain, the Isle of Man, and hilly areas of China, India, and Central Asia. It is a resident that does not migrate over a wide range.

The red-billed chough is found in high mountainous regions; it is usually found between 2,400 and 3,000 meters in the Himalayas and between 2,000 and 2,500 meters in North Africa. It can reach as high as 6,000 meters in the summer and has been measured at 7,950 meters on Mount Everest.

on the British Isles and Brittany, it forages on nearby short-grazed grasslands and deposits its eggs on sea cliffs along the shore. It was more common near the coast in the past, but habitat loss is an issue today. The red-billed chough often breeds at lower elevations than the Alpine chough, which is better suited to high altitudes.

Red-Billed Chough


Certainly! Here’s the information presented in a table format:

Breeding AgeBegins at three years old
Breeding FrequencyUsually yields one brood every year
Pair LoyaltyShows incredible loyalty to the partner and nesting location
Nesting LocationsCliffs, caves, or artificial areas like quarries
Nest CompositionMade of heather or furze stems and lined with wool or hair
Nesting AdaptationCan adjust by moving into man-made areas like quarries and mineshafts when available
Clutch SizeThree to five eggs
Egg Dimensions1.5 by 1.1 inches (3.9 by 2.8 cm)
Egg WeightAbout 15.7 grams (0.55 oz), with the shell making roughly 6%
Egg CharacteristicsSmooth or slightly tinted, with brown and black tones and varying thicknesses
Incubation PeriodFemale hatches for 17-18 days, taken care of by the male
Chick Care PeriodFemale agonizes the chicks for about ten days
Post-Hatching PeriodBetween 31 and 41 days after hatching, both parents share responsibility for feeding and maintaining the nest
Survival RatesAdults have a yearly survival rate of roughly 80%, juveniles have a 43% probability of surviving their first year
Life ExpectancyAverage life expectancy is about seven years, with some records indicating individuals living up to 17 years
Reproductive Success FactorsThe number of children born each year and their survival rates are correlated with the weather in the months preceding childrearing
Environmental Impact on Chick FledgingChicks that fledge in favorable conditions are more likely to reach reproductive age and live longer rearing lives
Red-Billed Chough


The red-billed chough mostly eats ants, while it also consumes other ground-dwelling invertebrates including spiders and ants. By using vertebrates as roosts, the subspecies from Focal Asia gains an advantage from parasites.

The chough’s main diet consists of invertebrates, although it also consumes vegetative materials like grain spills. Grain ranches suffer when they steal maize from elderly heads in the Himalayas. The Himalayas are home to sizable flocks of choughs during the winter.

The red-billed chough loves to feed in short grass since it is a grazing area for sheep and rabbits, which has an impact on the chough’s capacity for reproduction. Where plant growth is restricted by poor soils or coastal sea spray, there may be suitable feeding locations.

With its long, curved bill, the chough retrieves ants, dung beetles, and emerging flies from the surface while digging for grubs and other invertebrates. Its normal digging depths are between 2 and 3 cm (3/4 and 1+1/4 in), which corresponds to the depths at which many invertebrates can be found as well as the shallow soils on which it feeds.

Under perfect conditions, it can descend as much as 10–20 cm (4–8 in).Having both species coexist reduces competition for food. An Italian study found that red-billed choughs primarily eat Gagea bulbs in the winter, while Alpine choughs prefer berries.

In June, Alpine choughs prefer to eat on cranefly pupae, while Red-billed choughs prefer to feed on Lepidoptera larvae. Later in the summer, alpine choughs primarily consume grasshoppers, although red-billed choughs also consume beetles, fly larvae, and cranefly pupae. Pebbles are used by both species to conceal food stores that they have concealed in cracks.

Red-Billed Chough


  • The red-billed chough faces predation from the golden eagle, peregrine falcon, and Eurasian eagle-owl, with potential damage from the common raven.
  • In northern Spain, red-billed choughs prefer nesting near lesser kestrel populations for better predator detection and defense.
  • Proximity to kestrel colonies enhances breeding success, reducing nest failure rates (16% near falcons, 65% elsewhere).
  • The great spotted cuckoo occasionally parasitizes red-billed choughs, but the impact is minimal compared to its attacks on the Eurasian magpie.
  • Blood parasites like Plasmodium are present in red-billed choughs but at a prevalence of less than 1%, unlikely to significantly impact life history and conservation.
  • Other passerine groups, such as Russian thrushes, exhibit higher rates of parasitism by Trypanosoma and Haemoproteus.
  • Red-billed choughs may harbor mites, including Gabucinia delibata, acquired by young birds during communal roosting, potentially beneficial for feather cleaning and protection.
  • Feather mites, along with sunbathing and anting behaviors, contribute to improved plumage health and protection against infections in red-billed choughs.
Red-Billed Chough


Over ten million square kilometers is home to the red-billed chough, which is home to between 86,000 and 210,000 individuals in Europe. It is classified as a conservation species of “least concern” because it does not meet the requirements of the IUCN Red List for a severe global population decline.

However, the habitat of the red-billed chough, which is distributed in Europe, is becoming more fragmented and smaller. This is largely because conventional farming is declining and there is harassment and interference at their nesting areas.

Conditions in France, Britain, and Ireland seem stable, but in all of Europe, there are only 12,265–17,370 couples, with Spain having the highest number. Because of how spread out and isolated its breeding grounds are over several European countries, the red-billed chough is considered “vulnerable” in the continent.

Red-billed choughs, which nest in old houses, are becoming more common in Spain. In an area covering 9,716 square kilometers, there were roughly 1,175 pairings. These new nesting sites around the ancient mountains.

Nevertheless, issues with structures include human disturbances and the disappearance of historic residences. Fossils of both hardy species have been discovered on the Canary Islands’ highlands. The red-billed chough’s range shrank and the Alpine chough locally disappeared as a result of climate change or human activity.

Red-Billed Chough

In Culture

Greek MythologyGreek mythology considered the red-billed chough a sacred animal associated with the Titan Cronus. It lived in Ogygia, the “Blessed Island” of Calypso. Birds, including the chough, sea-mew, and crow, built their nests on this sacred island.
Nuisance SpeciesThe red-billed chough was historically linked to arson, earning it the ominous name “incendaria avis.” Some believed it carried fire sticks, setting dwellings ablaze. Daniel Defoe portrayed it as a trouble-loving, kite-like animal known for pilfering various domestic items.
Weird StoriesStrange tales included the chough stealing firebrands, lit candles, and hiding them to start destructive fires in buildings, grain stacks, and thatch-covered barns. It was notorious for taking forks, knives, spoons, and linen cloths. Note: Not all “chough” references pertain to this species.
Historical ReferencesThe Vermin Act of 1532 and Shakespeare’s King Lear referenced “Choughes, Crowes, and Rookes,” but they likely referred to jackdaws, not red-billed choughs. The term’s etymology can cause confusion.
Red-Billed Chough

Cornish Heraldry

The red-billed chough has a long history in Cornwall and is shown on the county coat of arms. Tradition among the Cornish people holds that after his last fight, King Arthur is said to have changed into a red-billed chough.

The bloodshed of Arthur’s final battle is said to be the cause of the bird’s unfortunate look, which is shown by the color of its legs and bill. Another legend says that when the last Cornish chough leaves Cornwall, King Arthur will return.

Notably, one important occurrence connected to this prophecy is the chough’s comeback in 2001.In English heraldry the bird is generally referred to as “a Cornish chough” and is usually depicted in its natural colors, known as “proper.”

Throughout the fourteenth century, St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who presided from 1118 to 1170, was posthumously given a coat of arms with three Cornish choughs on a white background.

Even though Becket lived before the heraldic period, these arms are associated with him and can be found in many English churches dedicated to his memory.There are conflicting accounts about the significance of this connection;

one attributes Becket’s death to the presence of a chough, while another suggests a linguistic play involving the term “beckit,” a theory that is not supported by historical data. Whatever its source, the chough continues to be a heraldic sign connected to Becket, appearing prominently on the badges of people and organizations connected to him, most notably in Canterbury’s coat of arms.

Red-Billed Chough

Other nations

Bhutan, The Gambia, Turkmenistan, and Yugoslavia have all used this species on their postage stamps. It also functions as the La Palma island’s animal symbol.

Common Names in 10 different languages

LanguageCommon Name
EnglishRed-billed Chough
SpanishChova piquirroja
FrenchChocard à bec rouge
Chinese (Simplified)中国红嘴山鸦
Arabicالغراب الأحمر المنقار
RomanianPăsăriță cu cioc roșu
RussianКрасноклювая галка
Hindiपहाड़ी कागज


  1. What is the scientific name of the Red-billed Chough?
    • The scientific name is Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax.
  2. Where is the natural habitat of the Red-billed Chough?
    • They live all over Eurasia, in sections of Europe and Asia, in coastal regions, cliffs, and mountainous locations.
  3. What is the distinctive feature of the Red-billed Chough?
    • The bird’s scarlet legs and bill, together with its glossy black feathers and sharply forked tail, are important distinguishing characteristics.
  4. What is the size of the Red-billed Chough?
    • With a length of about 39–40 cm (15–16 inches) and a wingspan of 75–85 cm (30–33 inches), these birds are medium in size.
  5. What is the diet of the Red-billed Chough?
    • They consume plant materials, insects, larvae, and small invertebrates. When searching for food, they are renowned for their spectacular flying maneuvers.
  6. Are Red-billed Choughs migratory birds?
    • They may migrate differently depending on the season, however they are not strictly migratory; certain populations may even show signs of migration.
  7. Do Red-billed Choughs nest in colonies?
    • Indeed, they frequently build their nests in rocky niches or on cliffs. The nesting locations are thoughtfully selected to offer security and convenient access to feeding regions.
  8. What are the threats to the Red-billed Chough?
    • The loss of habitat, disturbances at nesting locations, and modifications to agricultural activities that impact their foraging regions are among the threats. The goal of conservation initiatives is to solve these issues.
  9. Are they protected by conservation efforts?
    • They are protected by conservation initiatives that prioritize protecting their habitats, causing as little disturbance as possible, and increasing public awareness of the value of conservation.

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